Wednesday 22 March 2017

BROKEN MILE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Canadian Film Fest 2017 -Haunting mise-en-scene

Ugliest apartment in Toronto, maybe in all of Canada.

Broken Mile (2017)
Dir. Justin McConnell
Starring: Francesco Filice, Caleigh Le Grand, Patrick McFadden, Lea Lawrynowicz

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You know, ugly can be good. Toronto, for example, is plenty ugly. In fact, it might be one of the most monstrously, obscenely, hideously repulsive cities in Canada (and this takes some doing - especially since Calgary exists). Happily (for inveterate Toronto-haters like me), it's never looked more grim than it does in Broken Mile, a visually dazzling sophomore dramatic feature by Justin McConnell who directed, wrote, photographed and edited this oddly compulsive urban neo-noir thriller.

Shaun (Francesco Filice) wakes up in a puke-filled bathtub in an ugly apartment and discovers that his girlfriend Sarah (Lee Lawrynowicz) is bereft of life. There's clearly something shady about her stone-cold stiffness and he takes an immediate powder instead of calling the cops. In his mad dash to an awaiting Uber, he bumps into pal Kenny (Patrick McFadden) and hysterically, mysteriously apologizes to him. Shaun heads to an unbelievably ugly apartment complex and visits his ex-girlfriend Amy (Caleigh Le Grand) who, not surprisingly, lives in an ugly suite with grossly-patterned wallpaper and adorned with decidedly unstylish IDomo-like furniture. He enlists her help and the two of them spend a frantic night running from a (now-gun-toting) Kenny through one of Toronto's ugliest neighborhoods.

A showdown is inevitable as the mystery slowly unravels.

Ugliest apartment complex in Toronto, maybe all of Canada.

There is much to admire in McConnell's film. First of all, he's chosen to allow the drama to unveil as one long extended take with no cuts for the entire 82-minute running time. I'm normally not a fan of any trick pony cinematic shenanigans like this, especially when the "trick" is the only thing that makes the work palatable (the most egregious being dullard Christopher Nolan's backwards-play in his intolerable and overrated Memento). When there's good reason for such chicanery, I'm all for it.

Of course Rope, Timecode and Russian Ark are the most famous examples of the extended take approach and it can certainly be a worthy way to tell a story on film. The desperation of both the situation and characters in Broken Mile are ideal stomping grounds for its director's decision and so much of the film is compelling and suspenseful. Early on in the proceedings, there's an especially fine sequence in which McConnell trains his lens upon the main character as he sits in the back of an Uber vehicle whilst the unseen driver jabbers on to him. The sense of naturalism here is dramatically palpable and damn entertaining.

As the film progresses, the trick-pony stuff continues to infuse the work with all manner of delectably tantalizing properties. What's less successful is the narrative itself. We always feel like there's more here than what meets the eye, but as the movie careens forward, there are a few lapses in logic that feel like "flaws", but are in fact elements built into the narrative which most savvy viewers will recognize as being far less than what crosses our ocular gaze. I pretty much pegged exactly who was who, what was what and how/when we were going to get there. That the denouement is not fraught with darker and "bigger" elements which most noir-like pictures have going for them is a bit of a comedown - especially since we can see it coming.

This might be an unfair complaint since so much of the movie succeeds on a kind of neo-realist level. The world the characters inhabit is so dull, ugly and drained of life that it was a treat to see so many grim interior and exterior locales (many of which are so grotesque that this Toronto-hating critic has, over the years, gone out of his way to seek them out to keep things "interesting").

I also love how "uncool" everything in the movie is. The apartments that the characters live in are so gross - especially the aforementioned joint Amy resides in - and the car the "villain" drives is ridiculously uncool - a super-ugly normal minivan far better suited to someone's Dad rather than a young, purportedly hip denizen of downtown Toronto. There is also a scene in one of Toronto's dingiest Vietnamese Pho restaurants. I've been there many times and it warmed the cockles of my heart to see it in a movie. (The characters also walk by one of the strangest greasy spoons in the city, which is just around the corner from the Pho joint, but sadly, there are no scenes there. Probably because it closes at 4PM and doubles as an accountant's office and tailor shop.) Not only are the selection of locations a treat, but the garish natural lighting and first-rate compositions deliver some mighty juicy goods for us to slurp down with relish.

This is one solid picture and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing more from this do-it-all dude.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ Three-and-a-Half Stars

Broken Mile enjoys its Toronto Premiere at the Canadian Film Fest 2017