| September 29, 2006

I’m not surprised that Frank E. Flowers’ second picture, Haven, starring Bill Paxton and Orlando Bloom, sat on the shelf for two years. It’s a fussy, heavy-handed technical disaster with a severely undercooked story. What I still can’t understand after seeing it, though, is how it ever saw the light of day. The studio exec who decided to finally release this mess should be fired outright. What’s wrong with straight to DVD?
Two overreaching, ambitious creative decisions that lie at the root of this cinematic mess are admirable in theory, but in action, they completely derail what little story exists in Haven. These are the kinds of major errors that make you watch a movie, mouth agape, wondering how in the name of anything sacred someone in charge didn’t rise up and put a stop to it all.
The first decision was to start the story in one direction, around Bill Paxton’s character, a shady businessman who flees south Florida for the Cayman Islands with his daughter in tow. He’s involved in drug money and laundering when the whole deal crashes down on his head, but he gets out before he gets nabbed. Just as we settle into this story, Flowers jerks the narrative in a completely different direction. He leaps into the past of a completely different person with a Cayman Islands-inspired side story that’s all about colonialism, with a weird, obvious Romeo and Juliet riff thrown in.
Flowers leaves us in this other story for almost an hour of the film, essentially going from fast-paced thriller to a thought-provoking drama, destroying any sense of rhythm. I think it’s supposed to be Tarrantinoesque. It seems like a big reach for the affected cool of non-linear storytelling. Unfortunately it fails big. Why? Flowers, unlike Tarantino, doesn’t bother to show us the relevance of the leap. He fails to make it important to the overall telling of the story. It’s just an affectation, used poorly, devoid of importance to the whole.
The second bad decision, noticeable from the opening moments of the film, involves the editing and the shooting of the picture. Both filmmaking tools are used to induce a jittery, claustrophobic feel to the overall whole. We get tight swish pans from characters talking, down to what their hands are doing. Or, we get blurry, slow rack-focus shots and obscure cutaways that don’t reveal story but sure try hard to be cool and different. I’ve never seen camerawork so hyperactive as in the first third of this movie. The camera is constantly darting and swiveling. It’ll sharpen on an image for a split second before it backs out or cuts away. This muddled footage is then spliced and diced in random jump-cuts and undeveloped sequences. It’s film-school filmmaking run amok, like some class technical exercise taken way too far.
I will say this about Haven. It’s hard to understand what young writer-director Frank E. Flowers was thinking when he wrote this overly complicated plot around such poorly developed characters, and then constructed a film with such total disregard for the inherent realities of an enjoyable cinematic experience. But, once the pieces start to fall into place in the last 15 or so minutes of the picture, you catch a brief glimmer of sense within the whole inglorious wreck. Sadly it’s way too little, way too late. Again, I ask those involved with releasing this picture now, after it sat on the shelf for so long–what’s wrong with straight to DVD?

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