Forfeit (2007)
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Forfeit (2007)

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It is a fact that there is something very satisfying about a crime thriller. Most of us are upstanding law abiding citizens who use movies like this to vicariously live a life beyond the law. When you look back on the great films and television series of all time you have to mention such faire as ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Sopranos’. This is an unusual genre in many respects. It can be great fun whether it is down seriously or for its camp value. ‘Forfeit’ by Andrew Shea helps to return audiences to the classic crime flicks of the forties. While set in modern times it has that undeniable look and feel of those old gangster flicks that many of us grew up watching. There was some modernization made for obvious reasons; there are more in the way of expectations of the audience. Still, at its heart this could easily have been one of those Jimmy Cagney movies we all love. Part of this is the subtle use of elements straight out of a psychological thriller. Due in part to the changes in what is acceptable to the audience this film can start out like an old school flick and slowly turn far darker than would have been permissible way back when. There is a touch of the macabre that makes this film better than many of its contemporaries. It also includes elements of another popular sub set of the crime flick the heist. All of the planning and potential for great reaches and terrible betrayal are present. Like those movies of the past this one provides the audience with a look at some of the darkest potential in the human mind. It can infuse more in the way of actual violence but the core of the film is the twisted minds of urges of the characters. The film was original shown on the independent film festival circuit but just in case you missed it, as most of us would, the DVD is released through MTI. It is well worth the watch.

The writer John Rafter Lee has been a working character actor since he was a child. In more recent years he has branched out to the scripting and the production side of the business. This is his second time up for both. Lee’s previous film ‘Breathing Hard’ was about a struggling writer who wins up drive a washed up actress; sort of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ with a little twist. He starred, produced and wrote that movie. There is something about a character actor that provides potential for become a very good writer. Acting in parts that such an actor is given affords them a wide selection of humanity to experience. Many leading men get type cast as the hero or the villain but the character actor has to do it all. Lee has taken this experience and used it to the best possible advantage with his screenplay. The script is a psychological portrait of an average man, Frank O'Neal (Billy Burke). As a teen he killed his physically abusive father and fled his home in Los Angles. Now he is in his thirties and felt it was safe to finally return to his home town. Frank manages to get a job as a driver for an armored car company. He also reconnects with an old girlfriend Karen (Sherry Stringfield). While Frank is able to show the world a normal façade he is an intelligent sociopath bent on revenge. He devises an elaborate plan to rob the company he works for and pin the crime on Karen. Pushing him close to a psychotic break is a charismatic television evangelical preacher (Gregory Itzin). Beside the obvious moral dilemma a man like Frank would have with a religious man Lee adds another dimension here. It seems that the Preacher knows exactly what Frank is thinking.

The director here, Andrew Shea has a short and a couple of films already under his belt. He usually took on movies that were comedies or dramas but makes the move to a crime thriller with style and flair. He is not the type of director who is afraid to take on strange and difficult projects. One of his previous films was a comedy about a man on death row while another was concerned with a survivor of a cult mass suicide. Shea has been an upcoming name in the festival world and for good reason; he has talent. He provides the audience with a movie that works as a thriller. This is accomplished by Shea’s ability to delve into the inner workings of his character’s dark minds. Most heist flicks depend on the planning and execution of crime to drive the action. Shea takes a different, less traveled road. He almost uses the crime as a classic MacGuffin; important to the characters but not the audience. This is a character driven movie that pulls you into the twisted motivations of the principles.

As the opening credits are displayed against a black screen the voice of an evangelizing preacher is heard. He quotes from scripture and denounce those who claim there are inconsistencies in the Bible. He also speaks of God in triumph over evil though his righteous human followers. This sets the stage for the morality play that is about to unfold. We then see Frank as he visits Karen in jail. She had thought he died many years ago and is surprised to see him now. All he has to do is state he is alive and she will be released but he tells her that he wants her to rot in jail. The film than moves back four weeks in time where Karen is busy working at home transcribing tape of some medical dictation. She is shocked when her doorbell rings and it is Frank. Frank then goes off to work at the armored car company where he seems like a nice, friendly employee. It turns out that the company is not too particular as to the backgrounds of the men that they hire to drive. After a robbery Frank is promoted to the outside man; the one who takes the to and from the destinations. This is a job that exposes the person to the greatest amount of danger and none of the other drivers want it. It does come with a fifty cent per hour raise though. Franks begins to formulate his plot to rob the firm and use the crime to seek his revenge against Karen. When he meets up with the Preacher it appears that the holy man can see into his soul and the dark secrets that lurk there.

The cast is excellent here. Burke portrays Frank to perfection. He is calm and determined with just the right undercurrent of something being wrong. Most would take a psychotic character too far over the top but Burke lets Frank simmer altering the expectations of the audience. Stringfield is best known as a doctor on the long running TV series ‘ER’. Here she demonstrates the range that she is capable of expressing. She makes Karen into a tough woman who just wants to make it through life with as little drama as possible. Overall the film is suspenseful and tautly done. Shea has delivered an interesting piece of cinema here that should not be missed. As always MTI has found something that most of us would never encounter and brings it to DVD.

Posted 10/04/08

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