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Case Number 09070: Small Claims Court

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The Tenants (2005)

Sony // 2005 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // April 14th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Mitchell Hattaway also lived next door to Snoop Dogg for a while. He doesn't remember most of it—but he does remember having the munchies a lot.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Tenants (2009), published July 7th, 2012, is also available.

The Charge

Two writers. Different worlds. The same woman.

The Case

Brooklyn, 1972. Harry Lesser (Dylan McDermott, Wonderland) is the only tenant in an otherwise vacant apartment building. Lesser spends his days pounding away at his latest manuscript, one which he hopes will put him back in the forefront of the American literary scene. Lesser is startled one day to hear the sounds of a typewriter coming from another room, and is even more startled to discover that a militant black writer named Willie Spearmint (Snoop Dogg, Bones) has also decided to use the building as a base of operations. Willie initially has no use for Lesser, but as he begins to seek encouragement in his work, Willie warms up to the other man. Unfortunately for the two writers, Lesser begins warming up to Irene (Rose Byrne, Troy), Willie's girlfriend.

It's also unfortunate for the audience that Lesser begins warming up to Irene, as this is when the film takes an awkward turn into melodrama and starts to unravel. What began as essentially a two character drama about race relations quickly evolves into a soap opera. To make matters worse, the sudden shift in story and tone comes off as contrived. The relationship between Lesser and Irene doesn't develop naturally; one minute they are begrudgingly speaking to one another at a party, and next thing you know they're sleeping together. We see Point A and Point C in their relationship, but that's all. Rather than appearing organic, this turn of the plot comes across as little more than a way to force the film's final moments (although the story's ultimate resolution is never in doubt). Whether or not this is also true of Bernard Malamud's original novel I cannot say, although if it is true, I'd say this is one of those instances where the source material could have benefited from a few changes during the transition to the big screen.

This movie runs a little more than ninety minutes, and I think twenty-five of those minutes are pure gold. The film is at its best when it focuses solely on Lesser and Willie. Sure, at times it's hard to accept McDermott as an urban Jew or Snoop as a burgeoning literary talent (regardless of how good he is in the role, it's still hard to forget that it's Snoop you're watching), but these minor flaws are overcome by the quality of the scenes in which the two men sit and discuss the creative process. These scenes are dynamite, primarily because they ring true. It's easy to see that there is something in the souls of these men that drives them to bury themselves in their respective works. And their desire to have their work validated by people they respect, as well as their thin-skinned reactions to constructive criticism (even criticism they have personally sought out), is something I think many writers can relate to. It's a shame the rest of the movie doesn't reach the heights these moments do.

This film has an intentionally grungy, gritty look, and the transfer captures this quite nicely. Unfortunately, the source print was quite obviously marred by dirt and debris; a few nicks and scratches are also visible, which is a bit surprising for such a recent film. The soundtrack makes no use of the rear soundstage, nor is there much of a spread across the three front channels. At times dialogue is pushed forward in the mix, giving it an unnatural sound, and some of the looping leaves a little to be desired. Several previews for other Sony releases are the only extras to be had.

I wouldn't go so far as to call The Tenants a bad film, but it is a maddeningly uneven one. Too bad the filmmakers didn't quit while they were ahead.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genres:
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Previews

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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