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Case Number 15209: Small Claims Court

Buy Forfeit at Amazon


MTI // 2007 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 11th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan often is distracted by raving televangelists.

The Charge

Memories. Murders. Madness…Payback is hell!

The Case

If I taught film production, I'd show Forfeit alongside the likes of Casablanca and The Big Sleep. No, Forfeit isn't a classic like those two films, but it's a perfect example of contrast. Where Casablanca and The Big Sleep are films that are obviously greater than the sum of their parts, Forfeit combines numerous decent parts into an unremarkable whole. Here's how it breaks down:

The Plot
Frank O'Neal (Billy Burke, Fracture) killed his father many years ago before leaving town. Now he's back and working as a security guard for an armored car company. He's trying to restart a relationship with his high school sweetheart (Sherry Stringfield, 54), but her cop-father strongly disapproves. Frank is also plotting a robbery, but keeps getting distracted by the ravings of a televangelist. Although it appears Frank is plotting a simple robbery, his motives might not be so clear.

As a story, Forfeit works pretty well (even if it takes a little too long to get started). The gradual unfolding of Frank's back story is compelling, as is his relationship to his former flame Karen. Although the film is slow in parts, the structure of the film works well. I'm usually annoyed by the Tarantino-inspired independent penchant for gratuitous flashbacks, but Forfeit gets it right, using flashbacks tastefully to build suspense and interest.

The Cast
For an independent film, Forfeit has a surprisingly strong set of players. The anchor of this team is Billy Burke as Frank O'Neal. His character is obviously unstable, and Burke captures that feeling without resorting to flailing histrionics at every turn. It's also surprisingly easy to believe that he can so coldly plan an armed robbery. Sherry Springfield does an equally effective job as Frank's old flame. She's tough but vulnerable, again without relying on over-emoting to sell her feelings. Wayne Knight (of Seinfeld fame) seems to get cast a lot as a tightly wound jerk, and Forfeit is no exception. Although it feels like stunt casting, his presence gives the movie an extra layer of credibility.

The Direction
Shot on 16mm, Forfeit has a gritty quality to it. Everything looks like an actual location, and the obvious budget limitations give the film an authenticity that it might otherwise lack. Although there's a heist and some guns here and there, Forfeit gets by more on what it doesn't let the viewer see. The focus also stays with Frank, which takes the viewer deeper into the story very effectively.

Like I said, all the elements are there. Sadly, they just don't add up to a compelling feature. The only reason I can think of for the film's lack of success is that it doesn't seem to know which direction it wants to take. There's the heist angle and the revenge plot, plus the whole televangelist subplot. That's a lot to cover in 84 minutes. If the film had focused on any one of these stories it might have been more effective, but as it is Forfeit seems more like an exercise for the filmmakers than a movie for the viewing public. It could also be that films which feature crazy televangelists are simply doomed to failure. I think Mad Cowgirl is another case in point.

Forfeit has been brought to DVD by MTI, and while the disc was passed over for deluxe treatment, fans will be pleased. The video on this disc is surprisingly good for a low-budget film. The whole image has a washed out quality, showing those 16mm origins, but detail is pretty strong and there are no serious compression problems. The audio is well-mixed, so English subtitles aren't missed too much. Extras include a filmmaker's commentary and a making-of featurette. The commentary features director Andrew Shea and writer/producer John Rafter Lee. The two are obviously friendly, spending most of the track dishing out production info and their thoughts on the story and characters. There's a bit of silence here and there, but it's a strong track for those interested in the film. The making-of featurette runs about 15 minutes, covering the film's production with behind-the-scenes footage. It's not much, but more than many low-budget films get.

Forfeit isn't a horrible movie, but it is guilty of being less than the sum of its parts. I hope that all those responsible get to make more films that will have a tighter focus.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: MTI
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Spanish
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Crime
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Filmmaker's Commentary
• "The Making of Forfeit"


• IMDb

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