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Haven (2004)

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There is one thing about films concerned with dirty businessmen; the American film going public is more than willing to believe them. After all, big business and the men who hide behind the corporations have always been getting rich on the labor of good, hard working people. These nefarious businessmen have a mantra that became popular in the eighties, ‘Greed is Good’. This would seem to hold for many Hollywood flicks, greed makes for a great motivation for movie characters. It just happens that one of the best places in the world to hide illicit funds is the Cayman Islands. Sure, there are the well known Swiss numbered bank accounts but the Caymans is in the Caribbean; nice and warm, a true paradise. This allows not only for a theme of greed and illegal money laundering but leans itself better to romance than the Alps. This brings us to the latest film by native Caymanian Frank E. Flowers, Haven. This film tries too hard to combine a crime drama with a romance. Unfortunately, the talents available in this cast and crew are diluted by trying to serve two masters.

Businessman Carl Ridley (Bill Paxton) is successful but not really prone to reporting all of his financial gains to the IRS. His life was pretty good until he receives a fax informing him that the Feds will be at his door in very short order. All things considered this seemed to be a good time for Ridley to take as little vacation from his Miami home. Ridley straps a million dollars in hundred dollar bills to his waist, weighing about 28 pounds. He takes his daughter Pippa (Agnes Bruckner) along and heads for the idyllic Cayman Islands. Pippa has just celebrated her eighteenth birthday and needless to say is very reluctant to leave her friends behind. While Ridley looks for a suitable bank to stash his ill gotten deposit Pippa discovers a young man sleeping in the bed of the bungalow her father rented. The intruder is named Fritz (Victor Rasuk), a somewhat shady local. Although his initial reaction was to bolt from the scene Pippa is intrigued and finds him. Like many young girls in flicks like this she can’t resist the lure of a handsome bad boy. He begins to show her the night life. Fritz’s motives are not solely romantic. He is in to a local crime boss, Ritchie Ritch (Raz Adoti) for a sum of money that is more than he could possibly gather. When Fritz sees daddy with a lot of ready cash the wheels start to turn. He figures that his financial woes are about to be solved. While all of this is going on Shy (Orlando Bloom) and his girlfriend Andrea (Zoë Saldaña) are about to have their romance take a bad turn. It turns out that Andrea’s brother Hammer (Anthony Mackie) aspires to be a gangster. Under orders from their father, (Robert Wisdom), Hammer sets out to break up the couple with, shall we say extreme prejudice. Andrea is from a wealthy and influential family while Shy is but a poor fisherman.

This is the freshman feature length effort for writer-director Frank E. Flowers. His previous short film, Swallow, won a few film festival awards. Flowers has potential but this initial foray into full length films he shows he has some way yet to go. The elements are all here but they don’t quite gel properly. He is obviously a student of films and looks to the works of such luminaries as Taratino, Altman and Haggis for inspiration. Having a film based on colliding stories with an ensemble cast is difficult to pull off. This may not have been the best format for a first major film. The problem here is trying to get the audience to understand all the separate back stories, develop an attachment to certain characters and mesh the stories by the end. Concentrating the focus of the film on fewer plot lines would have gone a long way to improving the presentation. The pacing just doesn’t hold up. The non-linear timeframe jumps about too much. The director appears to have been too influenced by some of the modern techniques instead of depending more on tried and true methods of bringing a story to the screen. Scenes are cut too fast giving a jumpy feel to the piece. Flowers has a knack for storytelling he just needs to work on how that story is presented. Flowers is a native of the Grand Cayman Islands and his love for his homeland shows. This helps with the movie especially in telling the part of the plot that involves romance. The little touches of local flavor go a long way here to setting the stage. It also makes for some beautiful shots of the local beaches contrasted with the hustle of the city life. He also juxtaposes the locals with those there to visit their money. The natives of the island are generally poor, trying their best to eke out a living even if it means a little walk with drug trafficking. The rich Americans are generally seen as hedonistic, the women, young busty and usually coked out of their minds.

The cast also shows a lot of potential. Of course, Bill Paxton is one of the truly talented actors of his generation. He can play a nefarious man like Ridley with ease making the audience love to hate him. I have to give credit to Agnes Bruckner. She is best known for her television work but here tries to expand her craft. She plays Pippa as a confused young woman who is rebelling from daddy. While this has been done so many times before in film it is difficult to find a new take on the role. Orlando Bloom drifts through his role. There is intensity to his performance that never quite is able to fully manifest. Zoë Saldaña is able to transcend the script and add several layers to her presentation of Andrea. She gives a good performance considering the rich girl in love with the poor boy is so overused.

Fox did well in bringing this film to DVD. The video is presented as both an anamorphic widescreen version and on the flip side of the disc a pan and scan variation. The colors are bright and well balanced. The Dolby 5.1 audio is very well done. There is a required making of featurette that details what it takes to film in a paradise. While not perfect this is a good film for a rainy day or when television is beset with reruns.

Posted 02/05/07

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