What would you do if you were to find a poster that’s apparently drawn by a young girl who’s asking for help after being kidnapped. There’s a phone number to call scrawled on the bottom and a crayon drawn sketch of the girl. Possibly it is a prank, maybe it’s part of an experiment… regardless you would most probably take it to the police just to be safe. But what if it ends up in the hands of an amoral writer who really is more interested in getting a story out of the experience than worrying about whether there really is a little girl?
That’s how A Public Ransom begins and I was very interested in seeing just where it took that premise, however I was left disappointed. There is an incredibly rich piece of material here in order to conduct a potentially fascinating character study, however if you are going to write an unlikeable protagonist who makes questionable decisions then they absolutely must be interesting. Here though our protagonist is rarely anything but plain boring. Scene after scene goes by filled with the sound of Carlyle Edwards’ voice and rarely is any insight gained into the character beyond that he is an unpleasant, deplorable person. I wish that I could be invested in his journey but unfortunately he doesn’t have one, the character just stays the same throughout and you quickly find yourself not caring about what happens to him.
On the more positive side, director Pablo D’Stair sets about capturing some interesting angles and produces multiple shots that engage with the black and white/sepia tone, proving that the colouring decision was no simple afterthought. The acknowledged influences of Bresson, Fassbinder, and Jarmusch are evident throughout, however the film does loose control with these as it goes along; we see far too many barely lit shots of Edwards smoking a cigarette etc. Visually this film has its commendable moments, but it does lack restraint.
So as much as I liked the concept and the direction that this one attempted to go in, the end result just didn’t come together properly. The often unnatural dialogue helps push the actors towards more theatrical performances, an effect which doesn’t work both in terms of the attempts at naturalism and because it means that Carlyle Edwards overacts to the point where he occasionally verges on pantomime. The handling of the little girl in the crayon drawn poster is actually very effective; there is a haunting quality to it which sticks in the mind well after the film has ended. But whilst the poster’s presentation shows some initiative and experimentation, the rest of the film is shot so statically that it feels amateurish. A Public Ransom really tries and it will be interesting to see what D’Stair tackles next, but ultimately it’s one that is rather difficult to sit through to the end.
What is the film’s greatest strength? The ideas which it plays with concerning morality and the role of the writer.
Its greatest weakness? The acting just pips other concerns to the post
Would I see it again? No, once was enough with this one.
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