Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Scott Caan/Patrick Hoelck's MERCY brings fine ensemble acting and a lesson on love

What a pleasure it is to watch scene after scene of an acting ensemble that nails moment after moment -- with smart, au courant dialog to match. This is what writer/producer Scott Caan gives us in MERCY, directed by Patrick Hoelck with an eye for the way so many of life's important things happen on the sidelines rather than coming straight at you. This is true even when one's main character is a full-of-himself, successful writer who appears to barrel through life getting everything he wants. Ah, but is he happy?

Happiness, and its handmaiden love, are what Caan (shown below) and Hoelck (shown at right) are out to explore in their film, and to a fair degree they manage it. Early on, Caan's writer character (Johnny) makes a play for a waitress (very nice work from Whitney Able) on the catering staff of a party thrown for him.  We see this "play" from many angles: his, hers, that of his friends, and then much later, when the pair meets again. Meanwhile, Johnny has fallen for the gorgeous title character (as in "angel of") and much of the story -- told in an odd kind of flashback/flashforward style that circles toward completion --
tells of this relationship.

Because the moment-to-moment acting on the part of every cast member, from the leads to the barley-there, is so good, it is easy for us viewers to plow ahead. That cast includes Wendy Glenn (below) in the title role (who appears to be every bit as intelligent as she is gorgeous), Troy Garity as Johnny's best friend (underused, perhaps, but as usual, spot-on), Erika Christensen as a young woman who comes into Johnny's life later on, Dylan McDermott as Johnny's agent and even James Caan, (shown, bottom, left, who gives us, along with Scott, a nice père et fils scene, which can't help but have you wondering how close to real life this might be). Further, the film has a European sensibility to it, from its fine cinematography to the utterly natural behavior on view to its literate script with such a smart sense of indirection that it takes awhile to even know what the movie is actually about.  It's here, however, once we've realized the point of Mr Caan's screenplay, that some of us may want something more.

Chekhov has long been quoted to the effect that if you show a gun in act one, you'd better use it in act two.  The same might be said for the ubiquitous piece of self-help medical equipment on view here.  While the set-up is displayed noticeably, it is at least not rammed down our throats; then Caan and Hoelck, as expected, make further use of it.  What happens in Mercy may set younger hearts aflutter with surprise, tears and the sadness of "if only!"  Older viewers who've been around that block a few times may nod in recognition, while thinking, "Hmmph!  This pair sure got off easily: Their perfect-if-short-lived relationship took nearly no work at all."

Mercy, another smart pick-up from IFC Films, the company that is making sure we see so many movies from around the world that we otherwise might not, opens Friday, April 30 in theatrical release in New York City at the IFC Center, in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Sunset 5 on May 7, and On-Demand tomorrow, April 28.  Click on the link ahead to determine if and how you can see it via IFC On-Demand.

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