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Case Number 24947: Small Claims Court

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Asylum (I Want to Be a Gangster)

Synapse // 2008 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // December 14th, 2012

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker doesn't want to be a gangster, but he'd love to drive a Gangsta Lean.

The Charge

Be careful what you wish for! You might not survive it…

The Case

Jack (Julien Courbey) has always wanted to be a gangster…mainly, because he's watched a lot of gangster movies.

He's living a sort of low-level, gangsterish existence when he runs afoul of a real criminal boss. But fate intervenes, and through a series of odd—and occasionally gruesome, occasionally funny—circumstances, Jack finds himself a foot soldier for the biggest boss around.

Unfortunately, Jack is more wise-ass than wise-guy, and an act of sheer stupidity puts him in his mentor's crosshairs—and leaves him in a situation he could never imagination, one that doesn't even play out in gangster movies.

Is Jack's fate worse than death, or is it, actually, a living death?

Asylum (I Want to Be a Gangster) starts out like a typical, low-budget crime story, detailing Jack's unlikely introduction to the world of high-level crime. It's stylish within the budgetary constraints, and fairly clever, though nothing you haven't seen before.

But then everything changes, and the film becomes an offbeat, existentialist horror movie. I won't go into the nature of Jack's punishment, even though it's readily available in any description of the film; suffice it to say that it's a pretty grisly and despairing set up.

But rather than play out as grisly and despairing, the film makes a sharp, and welcome, turn into absurdist territory. Expectation gets tossed on its head, and the bulk of the film plays out in a hellish and intriguing alternate universe that is more Sartre than Tarantino.

Asylum (I Want to Be a Gangster) is director Olivier Chateau's feature debut, and it's an audacious one. This is a film that riffs on genres without aping them and is consistently fresh and surprising. Chateau doesn't make the mistake of trying to create a film that's out of reach of his modest budget, instead embracing his limitations and becoming something more perversely entertaining and weirdly intelligent than a standard-issue gangster or horror story. The quirky narrative and dead-on performances—particularly from the undernourished-looking, faux tough guy Courbey—come together to elevate Asylum (I Want to Be a Gangster) to a higher level than many indie genre takes.

Synapse has put together a terrific little package. The film has a grainy, otherworldly look—intentionally; Chateau pulled most of the color out of the image in post-production. It's disconcerting, as it should be, given the story; at times, it's visually quite striking. Audio is a very good Dolby surround track in French.

We also get a nice set of supplements. A "Making of" featurette is actually an extended interview with Chateau, who quite eloquently discusses the film, from top to bottom. This nearly 20-minute supplement doesn't have the forced, pat-on-the-back feeling of so many "Making of" backstories, largely because Chateau is so open and engaging. The disc also includes one of Chateau's short films, Homer, about the adventures of a rabbit left alone by its owner; this is a pretty entertaining and imaginative short. There's also a trailer for Asylum (I Want to Be a Gangster). It's overall a very satisfying package.

The Verdict

Asylum (I Want to Be a Gangster) is a quirky, occasionally nasty little indie with a strong, distinctive voice and style, and a wicked sense of humor. The film doesn't seem to have gotten a lot of attention here, but it deserves to be seen, and Synapse gets credit for turning out another fine disc.

Highly recommended. Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Synapse
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• English
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Crime
• Foreign
• Gangster
• Horror
• Independent
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette
• Short Film
• Trailer

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