by Del Harvey
Brilliant indie film accurately captures a cop’s life.
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First-time director Joe Pierson’s film EvenHand is essentially the story of two cops, Rob Francis and his volatile partner, Ted Morning. They patrol the streets of fictional San Lovisa, Texas, a run-down neighborhood inhabited by the kind of everyday people any of us might bump into on streets of our own town. While EvenHand is a police story, make no mistake — it is not about car chases, shoot-outs, or big explosions. Instead, this is a film with very well-crafted characters, most specifically the two cops who struggle to survive in a world that’s comprised mostly of boredom, routine, and the odd, out-of-the-body moments of extreme situations. By sticking to the simple truths of character development, Evenhand succeeds where so many fail.
One of the running gags in Evenhand centers around the San Lovisa cops’ attempt at dealing with the local drug problem; they hold a daily “lunch club” that meets on the front yard of one of the local crack houses. This little sidelight hides a profound revelation at the film’s end, but I won’t discuss it further for giving away an integral part of the story.
In lieu of depicting cops as superheroes with guns blazing and wisecracks for every occasion, Evenhand presents us with a couple of average guys, including Officer Francis (Bill Dawes), new to the force and looking for redemption in his transfer from an unhappy work situation and a bad divorce. He’s the quintessential good guy who wants to be everybody’s friend. At the opposite end of the spectrum is tough cop Ted Morning (Bill Sage), whose cynicism and overzealous ways tend to lead him straight into trouble. As these two work the streets of this fictional Everytown, U.S.A., they learn that they share more in common than imagined at first glance.
Both have their own demons and needs to tackle. Officer Morning has taken a personal interest in a local crackhead and loser named Toby (Io Tillet Wright), only his methods are questionable. He opts for a “tough love” approach, since that’s something he can relate to intimately, and it ultimately backfires on him. Officer Francis has fallen for Jessica (Ruth Osana/Mirelly Taylor), the attractive clerk at a local convenience store. Unfortunately for him, his confidence has been shattered by the ex and he spends most of the film trying to get up the nerve just to speak to the poor girl, who’s painfully and obviously interested.
Far too many indie films shoot for major production nirvana, attempting to overachieve in all departments, which is ultimately their downfall. Evenhand stays small and addresses the important concerns — character, storyline, and premise. We are rewarded with an intelligent and logical story, characters we recognize and which are totally believable and compelling, and a film that is enjoyable and engaging.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and lives in Chicago. He is a devout Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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