By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
“The Convict” (2014), the third short film from writer-director Mark Battle, deftly moves through its taut, claustrophobic man on the loose set-up to an undoubtedly human and incredibly satisfying conclusion. Such makes the closing instants of the twenty minute composition all the more intimate, poetic and resonant. This potent resolve makes our cinematic expedition with the lead of the narrative, David Eller (in a presentation by Dean Temple that fantastically conveys the commanding, yet broken, presence of so many genre heroes in a largely wordless portrayal), all the more triumphant and tear-jerking. The overall outcome is the structure of a filling novel or epic photoplay condensed to showcase the most important events in the fiction as playing one after another. In such a brief span, Battle tells a complete yarn. It is one made all the more varied by the wide range of sentiments it musters. This is true both in what is projected in the tale and within the hearts of its astonished spectators.
Battle heightens the intrigue by smartly only feeding us small details of David’s past. This is while keeping larger attributes, such as why he was incarcerated in the first place, an enigma. Such wise decisions keep us studying what transpires inside the affair. This is while searching what Battle gives us for answers to the many questions about this particular individual we are following. Such only keeps our interest piqued to ever-accruing levels throughout. An example of the strength of these attributes can be found at a sequence at nine minutes in. The scenario here finds David a passenger in a vehicle with a believed stranger named Buddy (in an enactment by Travis Mitchell which is just as watchable, gritty and impressive as Temple’s depiction). He seems to know much more about the title escapee than David could’ve ever imagined. Such cranks the ever-piquing interest and intensity on-screen, propelled by a rocket-like pace that never wavers, to increasingly unbearable levels.
When many of the pieces come together late in the last act, the journey is looked back upon as all more harrowing and personal. Though the personalities unveiled herein are purposefully more straight-forward and less banter driven than those perceived in Battle’s later masterpiece, “Here Lies Joe” (2016), it lacks none of the visual or emotional impact. Moreover, Battle paints the canvas of the screen with the same arresting, proficient and visceral style which has made his entire catalogue so incredible. Battle’s script share many of the same high-caliber attributes. It is also backed with an always reality based edge. This is in both characterizations, with David being himself being terrifically developed and alternately mysterious enough to add to the suspense, and situations. The Sweven Films release and winner for Best Short Drama in the Somewhat North of Boston Film Festival for 2014, is a perpetually athletic sprint of moviemaking muscle. It is one built with sheer craft and intelligence.
Battle commences this riveting tale with a well-executed and attention-garnering arrangement. This concerns David breaking into an apparently random home. His intentions, whether they are villainous or heroic, remain secluded. With this pivotal bit kept deliberately cryptic, Battle travels as a silent partner alongside our protagonist during the runtime. We learn that he has escaped prison due to a parole denial. Yet, as he travels the wintry New England roads in hiding from the authority figures who are aiming to haul him back from where he once came, there are tender moments which come unexpectedly. They suggest David is aiming for more than a taste of freedom from reformatory bars with his dangerous travels. Such is evident in an interesting, and well-done, scene at six minutes in. In this section, David risks being seen. This happens as he walks into a local store to do a seemingly simple deed. This is to buy flowers for an unknown recipient. We are left wondering who these are for. Such is an inquiry we are not provided until the rousing final minutes unveil.
Such a brilliantly conceived modus to tell an intentionally thin chronicle such as this is made all the more remarkable by the amazing, starkly life mirroring performances and technical components all around. For example, Kieran Battle as Cameron, Suzanne Bryan as Mary and Michael Anthony Coppola as The Parole Board Chairman are all exceptional. Kevin Haverty as Store Clerk and Robin Ann Rapoport as Wife are equally spectacular. They all make a shining impression. This is in the small flash of screen time they are given. Additionally, Michael Beal III creates an impeccable atmosphere with the soundtrack he has conjured. All the tunes herein compliment the seamless genre shifts of this dramatic thriller magnificently. Correspondingly, “On My Knees”, written and performed by Dave Munro, sets the ambient tone for the essential segments it is played in beautifully. This is organized to wrenching consequence. Battle’s editing, visual effects, cinematography, art and set decoration are also top notch. His camera department work is just as striking. Similarly, Nicole Celso does a wonderful job with her make-up contribution.
The result is the raw, yet easy to look at and ponder, veneer of a multi-million dollar action production. The undertaking is all the more notable upon realizing that it was conceived with financially far less. Such is just one of the many jaw-dropping elements this ingenious endeavor radiates admirably through its every frame. Battle has issued an account that more than satisfies in all of its genre aspects. “The Convict” is a well-rounded, heart-pounding and heart-breaking opus. It is one which is as much about getting the pulse racing as it is in exposing the lengths one would go for a few fleeting seconds of love. Both are time honored fundamentals of storytelling. Rarely do they both combine so well. Battle has erected a tour de force. This is a masterful example of a white knuckle odyssey that stupendously elucidates genuine bite and soul. Fellow cinephiles take note: this is mandatory viewing.