Level 33 // 2008 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // March 17th, 2011
It only takes one night to change your life forever.
Chile (Ty Hodges) and Head (Steve Connell) are two small time thugs who hold up a convenience store. They are spotted running out of the store by a couple of cops who are cruising by. One cop gives chase on foot, while the other calls for back up.
Meanwhile Pop Boudreaux (Henry G. Sanders) is supervising his employees as they get his blues club ready for another evening of music and dancing. That's when the two hoods burst in with the cop in hot pursuit. Chile and Head manage to knock out the cop, but find themselves surrounded by stunned and scared employees. Before the two can make their escape, the cops have the place surrounded.
What started as a quick thrill and easy cash has turned into a hostage situation. Head is prepared to kill anyone who gets in his way, but Chile wants to avoid bloodshed. Minutes tick by and Head starts to lose it. Pop does what he can to defuse this situation but each person trapped in that club has a choice to make. No matter what Chile wants, the night is going to end in blood.
Blues is a film about choices. Writer and director Brandon Sonnier crafted this movie to deliver a simple message: the choices that you make don't just affect your life, but the lives of everyone you interact with. He constructs the film so that we can see nearly every character's decisions as they head toward the climax. This gives us insight into their character, but also shows us why they react the way they do as things escalate in the club. This structure also screws the tension tighter and tighter as each story line builds on the previous. Sonnier shows some serious skill in pulling this off effectively.
But a good script and editing are only part of the equation. You also need a cast that can execute this type of a thriller. At the heart of the film is Ty Hodges performance as Chile. When we first meet Chile, he seems to be nothing more than Head's sidekick. But once things go wrong, he's obviously in way deeper than he ever wanted to be. He's not a bad person, but he is angry and hanging out with someone who knows how to push all his buttons. When he starts to see where Head wants to take the situation, his morality and fear begin to sway him. This conflict within Chile drives the most powerful scenes.
Steve Connell handles the other side of the duo. At first Head comes across like a thuggish jerk who is all talk. But as the film progresses we see that he's manipulative, knowing just what to say to push Chile just a little further. We also see that he's more concerned about his legacy as gangster than anything else. This desire for glory turns into a furious mania that has no boundaries.
Henry G. Sanders as Pop Boudreaux is the voice of reason in the film. He does his best to diffuse the two bombs who have wandered into the club. His actions and words distract Head and make an appeal to Chile. Pop can read these two like open books, and quickly determines that any hope they have of getting out of this rides on Chile. Sanders nails the part, creating a mixture of experience and sadness to his performance. The way his eyes react to Head and Chile's words and deeds speak volumes.
The rest of the cast is solid. No one overplays or underplays their part, and each of them adds to the film, raising the tension or even lightening the moment with witty bit of dialogue.
If I have any complaints about the film, I'd say that there are a few moments where the dialogue is a bit clunky in the exposition areas. Some of this is necessary to give us a bit more character development, but I'm not sure if people being held at gunpoint would be holding some of these conversations. The epilogue, which does add a bit of closure, comes across as a bit corny.
Level 33's video and audio presentation of the film fits the bill. The picture looked a little soft at times, but was on par for an independent production. The sound was clear, allowing the score and dialogue to be balanced. No extras other than a trailer. I would have liked to hear a bit from Sonnier on his inspirations for the story as well as his experience making the film.
This is an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a solid crime drama featuring fresh talent in front of and behind the camera. It's a worthy effort and I look forward to seeing more from these folks.
Not Guilty of giving me the DVD Reviewer Blues.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Level 33
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R