Judge Gordon Sullivan is from a town so small, it had no right or wrong side, just moral ambiguity.
Some crimes find their criminals.
Rich folks versus poor folks is the stuff of many a story. The easy characterization makes it an obvious thematic choice, and when the hero of the story has moved from one side of the line to the other, it even comes with built in dramatic tension. I can only imagine that was what the filmmakers behind Meskada were thinking when they got involved with this odd little crime drama. It's too dramatic to make a crime thriller, and too short to be a good drama, so Meskada is left with its few good performances to limp along.
Shane (Jonathan Tucker, The Ruins) and Eddie (Kellan Lutz, Twilight) are a pair of guys from the wrong side of town. When jobs are scarce they go out and rob houses in the nearby rich neighborhood of Hilliard. One of their robberies goes wrong, and Eddie kills a young boy before the pair escape. This would be just another unsolved murder, if it weren't for the fact that the boy's mother is Allison (Laura Benanti, Take the Lead), a county commissioner in Meskada, which includes both her town and the poorer town of Shane and Eddie. She controls a vote which could deny this poorer town a much-needed new plant, and she will hold up that vote as long as she thinks her son's murderer(s) reside in the town. She sends Noah (Nick Stahl, Sin City), a cop in Hilliard who's from the same town as Shane and Eddie. Noah's investigation will uncover a number of dirty secrets before justice is served.
For reasons I wasn't quite sure about, something in Meskada reminded me of The Town. It took me a while to do it, but eventually I figured out that both films share a similar sense of class-based drama filtered through a criminal element. Both also feature storylines about family and what it means to be loyal to where you come from. I don't want to turn this whole review into a comparison where Meskada looks bad compared to its big-budget brother, but contrast highlights the problems with Meskada.
• The lack of thrills. The tagline and cover art peg this film as, at least slightly, a bit of a criminal thriller. Aside from the opening robbery, there isn't much crime going on in this film, and therefore not much in the way of criminal thrills. Some thrillers get their jolts from the investigation, but from the beginning we know who's responsible for the boy's death, and there's no attempt to create a logical or coherent investigation that would build up to a tense confrontation. Instead, we get a (perhaps more realistic) cattle call investigation where everyone in the town is seemingly a suspect. It does little to bring suspense to the plot.
• The lack of drama. I hate to bring up The Town again, but one of the reasons that film worked was its two-hour running time (or two-and-a-half in the case of the extended cut). That gave the story time to grow into its tragic and epic proportions, giving all the characters their own moments and the plot time to reach significance. At 88 minutes, Meskada feels terribly rushed. The basic plot could have been dealt with in a 45-minute police procedural, but the resonance the film reaches for, the rich vs. poor dynamic, needs at least another 20 or 30 minutes to flesh out. As it is, the film feels both too long and too short, which is a terrible place to be.
• The DVD. Meskada gets a so-so anamorphic transfer. The film was obviously intended to look a little grungy, and the transfer does a fine job with colors. However, some of the evening scenes lack punch due to inconsistent black levels. It's not a bad transfer, but not great either. The soundtrack keeps dialogue clear, with a few moments of atmospherics and subtle musical cues. The only extra is the film's trailer.
The film is, however, not all bad. I have to give credit to the cast for turning in strong performances, despite the fact that the story doesn't seem to go anywhere. Nick Stahl is excellent as the cop divided in his loyalties, Jonathan Tucker is great as the similarly conflicted criminal, and Rachel Nichols comes off as surprisingly tough.
Meskada might be worth a rental to fans of the actors, but it's not thrilling enough to be a thriller, and lacks the depth to make compelling drama.
Despite the strong acting, Meskada is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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