‘The Living’ Film Festival Review
Film critic Roger Ebert once described film noir as “A movie which at no time misleads you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending.” These days, filmmakers such as the Coen Brothers are masters at the tradition of film noir with classics such as Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Miller’s Crossing. This style is very present in independent films because real life doesn’t always have that Hollywood ending. Since we see a lot of films using this style, it gets a little redundant. But when such a film as Jack Bryan’s The Living works on all levels, it must be seen to be believed.
The Living tells two intertwining stories: one of revenge and the other of salvation, with the eventuality that the two paths will cross. The film opens as Teddy (Fran Kranz) wakes from a night of heavy drinking. He treks throughout the house and discovers not only his wife Molly (Jocelin Donahue) but also his wedding ring is missing. He drives to Molly’s mother’s home and finds his wife there, beaten and bruised. Against her mother’s advice, Molly returns home with a sincerely remorseful Gordon, who is willing to do anything to regain her trust in him.
The Living is a dark, brooding thriller that wears the label ‘film noir’ proudly. Writer/Director Jack Bryan has constructed an intense story that truly keeps the audience on the edge of its seat. Although the revenge storyline is what most people will talk about after viewing this film, the events in which Teddy strives to regain Molly’s trust are handled in such a way that I wish they could have been in a film of their own. It’s a sweet little love story, and Kranz (the goofy pothead in Cabin in the Woods) and Donahue are terrific together.
Besides Kranz and Donahue, the entire cast delivers exceptional performances. Mulkey, a character actor last seen in Captain Phillips as well as one of my favorite shows, Twin Peaks, portrays a character so inherently evil that a trip to a diner becomes a terrifying experience. Wormald, as Gordon, gives the most complex performance of the film. His character arch – from a quiet, unassuming brother, to the mastermind of a murder plot, to the unleashing of a sociopath – is complicated, yet totally believable. It’s a great performance.
Production-wise, cinematographer Aleksander Kosutic uses different lighting styles for the two story threads. For the love story aspect, he uses more natural lighting, allowing the audience to see everything. For the sequences with Gordon and Howard, the scenes are minimally lit, with beautiful use of shadows, giving an ominous presence. The editing by Frank Reynolds definitely adds to the suspense as the film progresses.
The Living is a fascinating film that draws the audience in like no other film I’ve seen this year. Its story of salvation and revenge are both beautiful and frightening, and when both storylines collide, it leads to an unforgettable conclusion. Director Jack Bryan delivers an intense, fast-moving thriller that never skimps on the thrills. The film’s production is first rate, with cinematographer Aleksander Kosutic creating images onscreen that are hard to get out of my head, even nearly a week after seeing the film. Bryan brings an ensemble cast together that deliver captivating performances all around. The Living may be considered a small independent film, but its power surpasses many films released by many of the big Hollywood studios. It is definitely a film to search for. It’s worth the effort.