Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger says the proper technique for firing a slingshot is to hold the stone at your hip and aim with the slingshot. But if Thora Birch's hip is handy, just hold that.
Two cunning and manipulative drifters venture into Farifield County, Connecticut looking to seduce wealthy and lonely housewives.
Ahh, independent cinema. Only here can a loose affiliation of character studies and artsy shots of urban decay represent a complete movie. In Slingshot, the approach is more successful than in many all-knowing, too-glib indie efforts. The dialogue and characters are unforced and allowed to breathe, while its artsy shots are worth highlighting.
Taylor (Balthazar Getty, Lost Highway) and Ashley (David Arquette, Scream) are childhood friends who become uneasy adult drifters, moving from town to town scamming rich hockey moms out of their jewelry. Ashley likes it fine that way, consuming the easy resources within reach, wearing out his thin welcome, and bolting for the next town. Arquette plays Ashley with bitterness, his cruel malice always threatening to erupt. Ashley uses manners like a crowbar; if he casually brightens someone's day it means nothing to him. An embarassing exchange with a curvy fence named "Fast Bobby" (Svetlana Metkina, Bobby)—the embarassment of which flies right over Ashley's head—shows us just how much he despises women and how little self control he has.
When Taylor connects with a would-be mark named Karen (Juliana Margulies, Snakes on a Plane), we aren't so sure that Taylor is satisfied with the consume-and-bolt lifestyle. He's unwilling to take much from her. And though it doesn't seem he loves her, Taylor's enthusiasm for hooking up with Karen betrays his desire for the mature emotional relationship that Ashley cannot provide.
If Taylor's infatuation makes Ashley uncomfortable, his hard fall for Karen's daughter April (Thora Birch, Ghost World) sends Ashely into a tizzy. April is beautiful and poised, a prize that should not be within Taylor's grasp. But his honesty and vulnerability appeal to April, bringing her love just within his reach.
Slingshot's strength is deft character study. The actors bring poise and perception to their roles; there isn't a clunker in the group. Margulies brings with her the same appeal and screen presence that turned Carol Hathaway from a throwaway character to a mainstay on ER. Arquette sheds all trace of humor, turning the twist of his ironic mouth into something unpleasant. Thora Birch emits a casual intelligence, absorbing everything and reflecting it back with surety. Her emotional connections seem genuine, from a dangerously maudlin scene with her mother to a simple (but often awkwardly handled in cinema) first kiss with Taylor. Why movie kisses are so hard to get right is anyone's guess, but this one is right, from the body language to the quick taste of the lips afterward. When Ashley enters her orbit, the emotional minefield is rich. Balthazar Getty nearly underplays his character, but the weakness of his character's resolution is a weakness of script and not acting.
Because these actors have created such complex characters, the loosely connected character sketches are stimulating. It is fun to analyze why the characters react the way they do alone and with each other. Each diad is like a little mystery.
But should they be mysteries? Slingshot's script is commendable for leaving its resolutions open to interpretation (particularly the final shot, which suggests a resolution without explaining the rationale). Yet Slingshot's narrative is not cohesive. It starts and stops plot threads in a faltering gait, leaving us to buck in the saddle and look for something to hold onto. Just when you've latched onto a plot thread, it peters out. Though Slingshot avoids feeling cliched, the last twenty minutes or so are predictable. When the reason behind Ashley's angst comes out, few veterans in independent cinema will be surprised.
Many of Slingshot's shortcomings are mitigated by good camerawork. Cinematographer Paul Daley must have picked up some indy tricks from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (or been overqualified for gaffer work), because Slingshot offers an authoritative palette and several eye-popping shots. The best is a frame-filling shot of a slatted barn, with lances of light covering every square inch. Clever transitions, such as the boys stepping into a puddle and stepping out as men, up the art quotient. For some reason, the shadow detail takes a nose dive during the sex scenes (or maybe that's just when I was straining to see the most).
Sony provides a decent transfer, with colors saturated just enough. The sound field is not immersive but it is clear. There was one outdoor conversation where I couldn't tell what was being said, and I was grateful to find subtitles. There are no extras.
If Slingshot's finale is a little frayed and its ride a little bumpy, you're still left with a satisfying web of personal interactions to sort through. If you have a Jones for indy drama, this dose will get you through.
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