Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tribeca ’09: Tell Tale

As the director of Alien and the author of “The Tell Tale Heart,” Ridley Scott and Edgar Allan Poe have scared a whole lot of people over the years. Now their talents finally come together, sort of. Produced by Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, indie director Michael Cuesta’s thriller Tell Tale, which premiered Friday night at the Tribeca Film Festival, takes its inspiration from the classic Poe short story, giving it a modern medical twist.

In the original Poe, the sound of a murdered man’s beating heart drives his killer mad with guilt. Now Cuesta updates and tweaks the story, adding elements of Michael Apted’s Blink and Oliver Stone’s The Hand. The murdered man’s heart still beats wildly when in the vicinity of his murderers, but it has been successfully transplanted into a worthy recipient.

Terry Bernard spends a lot of time at the hospital. He recently had heart-transplant surgery and his little girl suffers from a rare degenerative genetic disorder. Fortunately, she has a caring doctor, who also happens to be quite attractive and interested in Dad. The only downside is the criminal ring which killed Bernard’s donor and his wife, seems to be operating out of the same hospital, so whenever he visits, Bernard finds himself compelled to take bloody revenge against yet another killer.

Cuesta and cinematographer Terry Stacey film Bernard’s revenge scenes in an intense, visually disorienting style. In terms of look and mood, Tell is high class genre filmmaking. However, the script is fairly standard thriller fare, with distracting logical contradictions which stretch the suspension of disbelief beyond the initial premise.

Refreshingly, Tell is distinguished by what might sneeringly be called the film’s “family values.” Bernard is not a single father by choice, yet he chooses to uphold his parental obligations as well as those of the mother who abandoned the ailing father and daughter. It is also his commitment that attracts the lovely doctor. Josh Lucas is exudes a nice everyman likability as Bernard, the well meaning Dr. Jekyll, wrestling with his physical and mental well-being. Lena Headey also elevates the throwaway role of the noble Dr. Elizabeth Clemson, exuding genuine warmth and an earthy beauty.

With a talented cast and an entertaining premise, Tell has a lot of commercial potential. Unfortunately, the Friday night screening was interrupted by a sick audience member needing assistance. However, William Castle, the king of horror movie showmanship, was surely smiling down from Heaven. “Heart-Stopping” he would probably proclaim. Its next and hopefully less eventful screening will be on May 1st.