Peace Arch Entertainment // 2006 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // December 9th, 2008
A family affair with its own melody.
There have been countless films about cons gone wrong. It's up there with bank heists as common focal points for crime films, and most of them follow the same rough outline. An easy mark is chosen, with plenty of cash, but it turns out the mark isn't actually rich, but it doesn't matter because the mark and hustler have fallen in love.
As a crime film, even a crime comedy, The Elder Son largely fails. This one focuses on Bo (Shane West, A Walk to Remember), who decides to convince out-of-work symphony clarinetist Max (Rade Serbedzija, The Eye) that he is a long-lost son. Bo does this to hide out from the police after he and his out-of-work actor friend Skip (Eric Balfour, The Spirit) get tagged stealing a car. Everyone believes his story, though, including Max's daughter Lolita (Leelee Sobieski, The Wicker Man). Things go all screwy when the two "siblings" fall in love.
So, by my count, The Elder Son is three films. The first is a drama about a father and son who find each other. The second is a romantic comedy, and the third is a crime comedy. The film is billed as a crime comedy, which was a pretty bad call. It's never clear why Bo and Skip would steal cars in the first place, especially when Skip is trying to become a successful actor. You'd think showing up on a police video stealing a car would make it difficult to get those plum parts. I'm also not convinced that holing up in the rough part of town would make it easy to hide from the police. The end is a huge disappointment in this regard too, as it never really gets resolved.
Thankfully, I was surprisingly touched by the other two stories. The connection between Bo and Max is particularly good, as the two of them fill gaps in the life of the other, even though they are both lying. In fact, this aspect of the story is good enough that I'm sure the author could have come up with a much better way to bring the two characters together. The love story isn't that bad either, though it doesn't have enough screen time to have any real meaning. It happens too quickly, and lacks the plausibility it should have. Either one of these relationship dramas could be the core of a great film, but trying to squeeze them both into 84 minutes spreads it all a little thin. That probably explains why the film came out in 2006, but is just hitting the street now. The Elder Son isn't a terrible film, but the direction and scriptwriting show a lack of both confidence and experience.
For the most part, the transfer is quite strong. It's obviously an indie film, and the transfer shows that. The video transfer is quite dark, and many details get lost in the shadows, even during bright scenes. The cinematography uses quite a bit of vivid color, but most of it just gets lost here, drowned out by far too much digital contrast. The sound is better, though it lacks the sharpness and clarity of productions with higher gloss. There aren't any special features on the disc.
By the end, I found The Elder Son more engaging than I envisioned. I was expecting a bland, b-level genre film, and it achieved more than that. While it does transcend its genre, it still lacks the clarity and focus that its characters deserve. I definitely wouldn't recommend it for more than a rental, and most can probably just pass this up altogether in favor of superior options.
Good performances, but the film is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Peace Arch Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R