Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tribeca ’09: Deadline (Short)

Shorts are often pigeonholed by the uncharitable as starter films with poor production values—sometimes not without justification. However, Joseph Bakhash’s Deadline (pop-up trailer here) has the look and feel of a full Hollywood studio production with a relatively big name cast to match. It also happens to be the darkest short in the Tribeca Film Festival’s “Wake-Up Call” short film program.

Seth has been exonerated, but mentally he is still behind bars, enduring the unending abuse from Hollis, a particularly vicious prison guard. As he orders a late dinner-early breakfast from a pretty waitress, he repeatedly flashes back to his recent prison ordeal. Then Hollis walks in, clearly a regular customer at the late-night diner.

It seems Seth is out for some closure, but things are not what they appear. Deadline follows in the Serlingesque tradition ending with a surprising dark revelation. Frankly, the twist ending might be best suited to shorter formats, if for no other reason because audiences simply do not have as much time to guess the big twist.

Norman Reedus, the indie star of Boondock Saints, is hauntingly intense as the damaged Seth. Chris Mulkey, recognizable as Madchen Amick’s abusive husband in Twin Peaks and an uncharacteristically sympathetic recurring role on the current season of 24, is a menacingly effective presence as Hollis. (Unfortunately, the guard’s sinister version of Christianity is a bit of a tired cliché.)

Deadline has a great look thanks to the striking use of light and darkness by cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler (whose credits include Borat and Helvetica). Bakhash keeps it tightly focused, steadily building the tension and leading viewers exactly where he intends. Well acted and impressively produced, Deadline is a dark but memorable short film. It screens again at Tribeca on April 29th, May 1st, and May 3rd. (Bakhash will be at all upcoming dates for Q&A and Reedus will attend the screening of the 29th.)