Cinema Epoch // 2008 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // May 8th, 2009
Die without regrets.
Can a man have such little common sense, such an infinitesimal amount of self-awareness that the ideas of forgiveness and second chances are rendered meaningless? Meet Anthony, king of the two-time losers, looking for one last shot at avoiding a completely worthless life.
Anthony (Mark Irvingsen, Blood Predator) has just gotten out of prison on a stint for selling drugs. Just as he went in, he found out that his girlfriend was pregnant, but she couldn't stick around to wait until Anthony got out of the joint. She has a new guy who is raising Anthony's son, and all three are moving away tomorrow to the boyfriend's new job. Anthony only has this one night to reconnect with his family and try to bring them back together. The choices he makes, however, in his attempt to be better makes everybody's life worse. Some guys just can't win, and Heaven help the people in their way.
The performances in the meagerly budgeted character piece called Chain Link are both the best thing about the film and the main source of frustration with the story. The character of Anthony is absolutely the hero of the story and the one we want to root for. We know how badly he's failed in the past, but his desire to reform seems genuine and he's taking all the right steps toward reform. Using old connections from his dad, a habitual loser in his own right, he gets himself a job at a scrapyard. He attempts to call his son over and over, and the boy wants to see his dad too, though Anthony's ex hangs up as quickly as he can say hello. You can't blame a guy for trying, and for all these reasons, we hope to see Anthony succeed. That's why it feels like such a betrayal to find out the depths of this scummy guy.
While the film is liable to leave viewers feeling angry and cheated, these feelings are very much to the credit of Irvingsen's fantastically realistic performance. The acting is very good across the board, especially for a film of this level, with some hilariously hammy and others solemnly serious. But a long tip of the hat goes to Irvingsen. His role goes across the board and, forced to play both hero and villain at once, he balances the two perfectly. His chemistry with his ex-girlfriend (Yassmin Alers) is spot on and his relationship with a son he barely knows called Little Man (Luciano Rauso) is exactly as I have seen in real-life estranged relationships. The somber tone of the lead roles, however, is mitigated by the tongue-in-cheek work of the supporting cast. Cromwell (Peter Looney, Pee-wee's Big Adventure), the mean spirited cop, and Duncan (Jim Storm, Trilogy of Terror), the grizzled scrapyard owner, add just the right amount of necessary scene-chewing levity to the story. While the film has an overarching sadness, these performances let you know that the filmmakers aren't taking themselves that seriously, which becomes even more necessary when the film takes its decidedly negative turn. Not every performance is going to win awards, but the cast is small and each person has a definite role in the story with no waste. The people make the most of their time on screen. The other performance of note, not for its size or greatness, is the role of an old woman (Leila Goldoni) assaulted on the side of the road. She isn't an actress of much note, but for director Dylan Reynolds, she is the greatest thing that could have happened to the film. Half a century ago, Goldoni had a role in John Cassavetes' Shadows, a film from which Reynolds takes more than a little inspiration.
Reynolds, who also wrote the film, discusses his love for Cassavetes in the audio commentary and relies heavily on his visual style for inspiration. The entire film is shot on handheld camera so, while it focuses heavily on characters' faces, the image moves around considerably. This shakiness lends an immediacy to the tone that works very well, but it can sometimes get frustrating wishing it would settle down a bit. With the added effect of masking the limited budget, Reynold's stylistic decisions are sound and indie fans could do a lot worse than Chain Link.
Cinema Epoch's release of Chain Link is on par with most of their releases, average in every way. The anamorphic transfer is strong, though the film's verité style doesn't allow for a lot of crispness in the look. The film is grainy with an often shifting focus, but the colors are generally accurate. It is clear that this is the look that Reynolds intended. The sound is a little bit of a downgrade from the image; there is some background noise and the stereo mix shifts from being difficult to hear to sharp and tinny. Aside from a fairly worthless still gallery, our only extra is a commentary with somewhere around a dozen drunk members of the cast and crew. They obviously had a great time making the film and a great time recording this commentary as a tribute to themselves, but there isn't a lot of value in hearing them laud each other.
One of the best things about watching tiny, independent films is the ability to witness a character study with great performances from unknown actors. The level of believability is heightened so much by the lack of baggage in the roles. One has to sift through a lot of garbage to find the gems, but Chain Link certainly is one of those.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated