Judge Alice Nelson was embarrassed when she found out that a Scalene is a triangle with uneven sides, not the name of a song by Journey.
Perception is everything.
Most stories are told in a linear fashion, though some use a non-linear approach and others tell the story in reverse order. Director Zack Parker effectively utilizes all three devices in Scalene. With a tip of the hat to Christopher Nolan's Memento, Parker manages to set his film apart from that classic by showing how three people can perceive the same experience in completely different ways. The "truth" is often in the eye of the beholder.
Facts of the Case
Jakob Trimble (Adam Scarimbolo) has suffered a severe brain injury which has rendered him speechless and unable to care for himself. His mother Janice, played by Margo Martindale (Million Dollar Baby), hires a home care worker named Paige (Hanna Hall) to help alleviate some of her burden. When Josh is accused of raping Paige, the viewer gets to see—through the eyes of these three characters—different perceptions of an event which drastically changes their lives.
Scalene takes the old adage "There's three sides to every story: your side, their side, and the truth," and turns it on its ear.
The film begins with Janice's story. In her version, she is a caring mom who lives only for her disabled son, until some tart comes along and accuses him of an unspeakable act. Scared and desperate, Janice makes a terrible decision to buy a gun and confront Paige. She wants to ease her pain by seeking revenge on the woman responsible for her son's incarceration. It's Janice's story that's told in reverse, representing her desire to turn back time to the moment just before she made the choice to purchase a gun and knock on Paige's front door. Her story is a do-over of sorts, a way for Janice to erase her awful decision.
Paige's story is told in the linear form and unfolds as these events are happening. Because she misses some pertinent information, Paige sees Janice in an unfair light. To Paige, Janice is a rude, cold woman who yells at her son and blames him for all that has gone wrong in her life. So, when Paige finds several cuts and bruises on Jakob's body, she worries that he's being abused. Paige's perception of Janice results in her making a fateful decision she believes will be best for Jakob. Unlike Janice, Paige does not regret her decision, even though her choice tragically alters all of their lives.
Jakob Tremble's story is told in a non-linear style, which makes sense considering his brain injury. His mind bounces back and forth between the past and the present. In one moment we see his injury was the result of huffing fumes with some friends, then suddenly he's his doctor's office where the man morphs into Janice, who's now at home speaking with Paige. Even though Jakob's brain is compromised, his is probably the most honest take on the whole situation. Because his thoughts are unencumbered by the baggage we all carry, Jakob is able to see both women as they truly are; flawed people who care for him, but don't necessarily do what is best.
Parker was able to amass quite the cast in this independent film. The most experienced of the three is Martindale, whose performance is as powerful as it is endearing; a mother who believes her life means nothing without her "baby." Hall is fine as Paige, but her performance is overshadowed by both Martindale and Adam Scarimbolo, who is fantastic as Jakob. You truly believe he is suffering from a brain disorder, and steals every scene without uttering a word. The little known Brooklyn-born actor shows skills well beyond his years and manages to carry the film on his very capable shoulders.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Scalene produces a visual experience that defies the small budget Parker had to work with. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix highlights a wonderfully suspenseful score from The Newton Brothers. The music works perfectly for a film that takes its time to develop, as we become a part of these characters lives.
Zack Parker and co-writer Brandon Owens use Scalene to tell a beautiful yet tragic story of people so caught up in their own heads they are unable to see the world outside of themselves. Parker proves he can compete with top tier directors, and I look forward to seeing more from this creative filmmaker.
From my perspective, this movie is Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Breaking Glass
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