Though he didn't appreciate the "publicity screener" presentation, Judge Bill Gibron actually found a lot to like about this independent crime drama.
Say hello to my little independent film about drug dealers.
Michael "Little Man" McCarthy is a disaffected youth, living a menial post-high school life with a drug-addicted mother and a crappy, unfulfilling job. To pass the time, he gets high with his friends Corey, Wancho, and Donny. One day, his pot connection Randy convinces him that selling weed is the only way to escape his stifling suburban strife. Before long, Little Man is a local legend, making thousands of dollars pimping herb to the local populace. As he starts to taste the spoils of his new illegal lifestyle, two elements step in to cause confusion. One is a stripper named Alexis who initially plays incredibly hard to get, then ends up being equally impossible to dump. The other is problematic police officer Detective Benson. Willing to go to any extremes, even those outside the boundaries of the Constitution, to trap this drug-peddling plague, he hounds Little Man, hoping to catch him in a mistake. Naturally, the self-assured stooge screws himself, branching out into cocaine and relying on false friends and weak-willed companions. Before long, the cops have all they need, and a daring daylight raid captures almost everyone involved. But the Bristol Boys are not going down without a fight, either in the courtroom, or on the streets.
Though it gets off to one of the weakest starts in recent independent filmography and almost loses its way near the end, Bristol Boys is actually quite an effective crime drama. Telling the true-life story of some Connecticut drug dealers in their mid-20s and their high-living, arrogance-driven enterprise, writer/director Brandon David creates a compelling story that strives to survive some sloppy cinematic elements. Though its cast contains a few recognizable faces (Oz's Dean Winters, Doogie Howser's Max Casella), 25-year-old Thomas Guiry must carry the narrative as Little Man, a tough Irish kid with a pain-killer addicted mother and a huge streak of self-entitlement. If we don't believe this character, and don't semi-sympathize with his fate or his desire to better his lot in life, the rest of the film will fail. Luckily, Guiry makes Little Man tolerable, capable of moments of meaningful interaction with the rest of the human race. Granted, the cockiness exhibited by all the characters can be a bit much, and the overall tone of privilege and partying threatens to overwhelm the first half of the film. But thanks to David's directorial determination, along with the intrigue and excitement inherent in the material, we end up with a reasonably good indie effort.
You do have to dredge through a lot of stylistic shuck and jive to get there, though. David is obviously enamored of Tarantino circa Reservoir Dogs and Aronofsky in his experimental Requiem for a Dream phase. There are moments here that purposefully draw attention to themselves, instances of narrative shorthand where the filmmaking flies directly in the face of the plot's purpose. Sure, it's neat to see drug dealing sped up and supplemented by a cool alt-rock soundtrack, or to watch Little Man screw a skank in a manner reminiscence of Alex in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. But we are supposedly dealing with reality here, a very serious situation in which marijuana and coke are traded like tokens in a hyperactive arcade of true human misery. To add these knowing nods to other auteurs asks for your efforts to be considered alongside same, and in that capacity, Bristol Boys is embarrassing. Like a neophyte Scorsese, David wants to simultaneously romanticize and repudiate the world of dope pushing. This is not a suburban Scarface, however, mostly because iconoclastic criminals equipped with quotable dialogue are not the center of attention. Instead, we get a mix of cinematic textures tweaked with just a tad too much painfully obvious homage.
Luckily, the acting saves us most of the time. Dean Winters, as sort of a conscience to Little Man and his enterprises, is surprisingly strong. Not given much screen time, he carries his Bleak Chorus role well. Similarly, fellow Oz man David Zayas is very convincing as an alcoholic cop who plays by his own set of non-Miranda rules. When he confronts Little Man's cokehead pal Corey with the realities of prison, he exudes a sense of menace like Powers Boothe in Sin City. As the main drug dude, Thomas Guiry does a little too much face acting to be effective. Whether he is happy, sad, angry, or conceited, he juts out his jaw and puts on his best bad-ass facade. We are supposed to find it intriguing. It's merely a passable performance attribute. Others here are equally scattered. Tammy Trull has got the possessive slut routine down pat, so irritating and shrill that you wonder what anyone could see in her shrieking slut demeanor. Similarly, Max Casella's bouncy badda-bing routine on The Sopranos bleeds over into his work as Donny, rendering his character a shady stereotype in desperate need of a hurdy-gurdy and a panhandling monkey.
In the end, however, the storyline's twists and turns, the legal wrangling, and the entire black gangsta subplot (including lots of gratuitous N-word action) create fascinating forward momentum that keeps us interested, even if the outcome appears inevitable. It's a testament to David's ability behind the lens that he can make something obviously limited in budget and production privileges actually appear like its big-screen brethren. Still, this is not a perfect film, especially since it insists on playing in an arena where so many major motion-picture masterworks have traversed before. Given its actual events pedigree and the uniformly fine performances, Bristol Boys deserves attention, especially for all the formulas and clichés it avoids. Some may be turned off by its crass-cartel-of-cool-guys dynamic, but there is still something intrinsically engaging in this material. Turn your expectations down a few notable notches and you'll be thoroughly entertained.
From a technical standpoint, this critic is sad to say that this DVD is impossible to judge. The main reason for that, of course, is that this is not a DVD at all. Instead, this is a publicity screener, and as such, does a couple of things that send this reviewer's rage into overdrive. For example, there are some excellent PROPOSED features on this disc. The real-life equivalent of one of the main characters sits down for a documentary Q&A on the crimes. But after a couple of minutes of interesting back-and-forth, the interview stops and a disclaimer announces that the rest of the feature will be found on the forthcoming digital release. Similarly, a behind-the-scenes featurette is equally abandoned before it really begins, another excerpt explanation provided for our benefit. While an actual trailer is included, the promised police documents gallery is just a single page stating "more will be available with the retail DVD." Arrgh!
About the only full-length supplement provided is a commentary from David, and it's a good alternative narrative. While he does get caught up in ancillary elements while failing to address what's on screen, the insights he provides add to our understanding of independent production. Toss is a few iffy technical specs—the image is provided in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (complete with image-blocking "property of" anti-piracy language strewn across the screen) and dull Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0—and you've got an uncertain final package and presentation. Thanks a lot, Bristol Boys. You've made the job of a critic that much more complicated.
So there you have it: half a review of the forthcoming Bristol Boys DVD. The movie is amazingly effective and well worth checking out. Whether it makes a successful or shoddy switch to the digital medium is anyone's guess.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: King Midas Films
• Full-length Audio Commentary by Director Brandon David
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