The Devil’s in the Details

| March 12, 2013

Thomas Conrad is a former Navy Seal who has returned injured from home.  After his recovery, he is left with an addiction to pain-killers, which drives his family away and leaves him in therapy.  Fresh out of rehab, and trying to put the mistakes of his past behind him, Thomas (Joel Matthews) is kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel who want to use Thomas’s father, brother, and sister in an elaborate scheme to smuggle drugs across the Mexican border.  Most of the film is spent watching Thomas get tortured by his captor Billy (Emilio Rivera) while he screams into a phone for his family to help execute the plan.

This gets into the major problem with The Devil’s in the Details.  With most of the movie taking place inside Thomas’s cell, we never see his family trying to pull off their part of the plan.  All we have is them yelling through a telephone, and Thomas’s reactions to what he hears.  This is an exceptionally boring way to tell a story.  The technique isn’t a complete failure; when seeing Thomas react to certain developments, it can be very effective.  The key is to do it sparingly, otherwise it just makes the film feel like it has zero budget.  Other aspects of the film contribute to this feeling as well.  For example, the opening of the film jumps back and forth across weeks of time, but Thomas is always wearing the same costume.

The thing that really gets to me about this film is that it feels like it was written by an eighth grade boy who has every Tarantino movie memorized.  He tries too hard to infuse clever lines into the script, but they end up feeling forced and artificial.  The cleverer lines feel like a novelty card trick, but without good character driven action to move the plot forward, even the fun moments in the dialogue come up as little better than frustrating.

Also in true eighth grade screenwriting fashion, there’s a big twist ending.  I’m of the philosophy that twist endings are so difficult to pull off well that there’s only a select few who should even try.  The problem is that even if the audience doesn’t see the twist coming, it’s not enough to make it effective.  I didn’t see the ending here coming at all, but that didn’t make it at all satisfying.  Instead, the ending only serves to overcomplicate a plot that was needlessly complicated to begin with.

The one thing I can praise about the film is Joel Matthews performance.  He completely sells the anguish of his character’s physical and emotional anguish.  The director, Waymon Boone, does a good job of emphasizing these moments in different ways.  In one scene, Thomas is given proof that his daughter is being held captive, and he understandably freaks out, but the sound gradually cuts out and is replaced with a screeching noise.  In other scenes, when Thomas has a time limit to convince someone on the phone to do something, the camera will rotate around the scene clockwise to show the passage of precious seconds.  If it were up to me, I’d suggest rotating the camera counter-clockwise, to represent more of a countdown, but maybe that would be too on the nose.

The only special feature on the DVD is a behind the scenes featurette.

Available on DVD from iMage Entertainment on March 12

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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