Judge Gordon Sullivan's sound level can be mushy, but never when he's making a movie.
Embrace the fall
I want to start off by saying that I'm not entirely comfortable reviewing …Around. The vast majority of films I see are the products of the film industry, and no matter how much personal investment the creators may have in them, they are still commodities someone is trying to sell. In contrast, …Around feels like the work of someone telling a story because he or she has to, with no regard to the kind of money it may or not make out in the world. On the one hand this gives the film a peculiar power because it contains a vision unsullied by corporate concerns. On the other, it can be off-putting because the message is so singular it can be difficult to read.
Ultimately however, whatever respect I have for the go-get-'em attitude behind …Around, as a reviewer I have to keep in mind that I'm attempting to help viewers, not directors or writers. In that light, …Around is the kind of film that will appeal to a narrow group of people while alienating most viewers.
…Around tells the semiautobiographical story of Doyle (Robert W. Evans, Heavens Fall), a Jersey-boy with big dreams of a film career in NYC in front of him, and a broken and abusive home behind him. He departs for film school in the big city, but it's even harder than he imagined. After a snafu with his financial aid, Doyle is forced to live on the streets, paying his tuition on a revolving series of credit cards. While homeless, Doyle finds a mentor, a woman to love, and ultimately himself as he struggles with his past and his future.
The first half an hour of …Around did just about everything possible to annoy me. There's a pretentious voiceover about storytelling, a plot about a white boy with big dreams going to the big city only to get swallowed up, a "magical black man" who helps him survive on the streets, and the stereotypical "art-school" types it presented. I was seriously considering turning the film off at the half-hour mark (not just for the story, but also for technical reasons I'll discuss below), but one thing kept me going: Robert W. Evans as Doyle. The man is ridiculously charming, and no matter how clichéd the story seemed to get he made it work, either with his quick grin or his haunting eyes. It would be really easy to oversell Doyle and his predicament, but Evans keeps it subtle.
The rest of the cast range from good (Molly Ryman as the love interest) to the merely okay (Marcel Torres as the hometown best friend who stays behind). The rest of the plot has a similar range. There are some good moments (like the repetition of certain types of scenes that show Doyle's growth) as well as some that are merely passable. The ending is a perfect example of that. It wants to come off as ambiguous-but-hopeful but instead comes off as confused, like there wasn't a better way to finish things off so they just stuck some stuff together.
Verdict was sent a screener of this film, and it's a total mixed bag. The video is the highlight of the release. Shot on digital video, the picture looks great for a low-budget feature. There are lots of wide angles lens used, as well as authentic locations that give the film a very rich feel. This is reproduced well on the DVD, with no serious artifacting or other compression problems. The audio, however, is a different story and a huge part of the reason I almost turned the film off at several points. Part of the problem was that the dialogue was mixed very low, so when the dialogue was audible other sounds were way too loud. The other problem is that even when the dialogue was audible it was very mushy so that individual syllables were hard to make out. It made watching the film a very frustrating experience, and I hope that a better mix appears on the production DVD.
…Around is an independent film, and fans of low-budget dramas could certainly do worse. Although it's far from perfect, the story of Doyle (as well as Evans' acting) keeps the film interesting from start to finish. As I write this the film isn't largely available, but as it gets a wider release it should also find a wider audience. I look forward to the future work of director David Spaltro and Robert W. Evans.
Despite a few hiccups, …Around is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Diverse Artists
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