Anchor Bay // 2011 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 15th, 2012
Serve. Protect. Lie.
On paper, The Son of No One sounds picture perfect. Combining a tale of police corruption in just post-9/11 New York with a tale of a cop from the wrong side of town attempting to live with the ghosts of the past sounds like a surefire winner. Add to that a cast that includes cop-drama stalwarts like Al Pacino and Ray Liotta and otherwise excellent performers like Tracy Morgan and Juliette Binoche. The Son of No One should have cleaned up at the box office and the awards shows. Instead, it never opened in more than ten theaters and barely did a new car's worth of business. Though The Son of No One (Blu-ray) is a fine way to view the film, it's not a case of an unjustly ignored flick coming to light after studio mismanagement.
It's just a few months after the attacks of September 11th, and new cop Jonathan White (Channing Tatum, The Eagle) has been transferred to the 118th precinct in Queens, the same rundown neighborhood he grew up in. He's keeping his life on track, but someone is sending letters to the local paper claiming the police covered up a pair of murders in 1986. These murders were committed by a young Jonathan and covered up by his dead father's partner (Al Pacino, Heat). As the other members of the precinct work to keep these secrets buried, Jonathan wrestles with his conscience.
In the hands of a master writer, the basic ideas that The Son of No One puts into play are compelling. The idea of a young guy from the projects who was pushed to murder, an act which the cops covered up, is a solid one. The fact that the young guy grows up to be a cop just like his dead father adds another layer to the story. The anonymous source sending letters about the murders to a journalist adds a level of intrigue and generates forward movement. Setting the whole thing just after 9/11 generates even more tension. Why then, does the film fail to be great, or even very good?
The Son of No One makes a strategic mistake in trying to be a 90-minute police thriller. Cop Land didn't really work until the 116-minute director's cut, and the film that The Son of No One should be looking to is Mystic River, which took almost two and a half hours to spin its tale of how much adults can be haunted by their childhood experiences. That's the issue with The Son of No One: it brings into play all the weight and pathos of a film like Mystic River and tries to dispense with it all in a 90-minute blast of quick cuts and sketchy character motivation.
The decision leads the film to other mistakes as well. The flashback structure doesn't work; we get interspersed flashbacks that interrupt the film's forward momentum. Pushing all those scenes to the beginning would have been a much more solid storytelling move. The ending is also shortchanged by the film's attempt at breakneck speed. If the film had taken the time to really dwell in the story's emotional weight, the revelation once everything unraveled in the end might have felt appropriate. As it is, the explanation for who and why the letters are sent feels capricious and seems like a cheat by the filmmakers.
Finally, this might be a bit shallow, but Channing Tatum's moustache in this film is distracting. I understand he's a sex symbol and all that, but the facial hair doesn't seem to fit his character, the setting, or anything else. Maybe it looks cool on the poster, but I genuinely found it distracting in the film.
The film doesn't fail because of the acting. Channing Tatum is fine as Officer White. It's not a great performance, but I don't get the sense that he was given a lot to work with. Ray Liotta is his usual dependable self, while James Ransone shows us what would have happened if his character from The Wire became a cop. The real standouts to me are Tracy Morgan and Al Pacino. Neither have many scenes, but they're perfect. Morgan has to play the mentally ill witness to White's earlier misdeeds, and his tortured and confused looks are heartbreaking. Pacino, on the other hand, plays a confident older cop. This is his best work in years. He has a scene with the young White (in a 1986 flashback), and it's a master class in acting. Pacino completely tones down his "I'm doing Pacino" persona to give the kind of affecting, commanding performance he hasn't tried to give in a while.
This Blu-ray is also better than the film deserves. The 2.35:1 AVC encoded image is generally good, with a few great moments. The look of the film is definitely gritty, but detail stays strong (even when the important details are out of focus). Black levels are the most important aspect of the transfer, and here the disc excels. Shadow detail is strong, and the black are consistent and deep. The DTS-HD track isn't quite as strong, with clean dialogue but unimpressive stereo imaging and use of surrounds. It's not awful, but the sound design just isn't that great.
Extras start with a so-so commentary track featuring writer/director Dito Montiel and executive producer Jake Pushinsky. When they speak they have a few interesting things to say about the film, but there's too much silence to make this track consistently interesting. We also get 6 minutes of extended scenes that were very justifiably dropped from the final film, and the film's trailer.
There are some really interesting ideas at play in The Son of No One, but the film squanders every opportunity to exploit them by aiming for thriller territory instead of being the drama that the material demands. Worth a rental for fans of Tatum, who gets a lot of screen time, or for those who want to fast forward until either Tracy Morgan or Al Pacino are on the screen. Otherwise, there's nothing to recommend this flick.
Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes