Son Of No One
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Son Of No One

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One very common film and television trope is that of returning home. While it has been said that you can never return home again that is more of a poetic ideal that a slice of reality. The fact is many people do return back home. Some returning to the relative security of the parental homes others driven by the lofty ideal of helping others get out of the old neighborhood. The return of the prodigal son is literally as old as time and obviously has found its place in the Scriptures. One reason for the longevity of this particular type of story is it does have a universal appeal. Even if you n ever actually made the return trip you can certainly understand the motivations and trepidation of what would bring an adult back to where his life started. Perhaps the gut level acceptance is inbreed in our genetic constitution like salmon returning to their hatching ground to spawn but in any case the archetype remains in steady use by screenwriters. ‘The Son of No One’ is a familiar variation on this theme with a somewhat overused twist. A boy struggles to get out of the old, crime ridden neighborhood only to make it as a police officer. One of his first assignments is to patrol the very streets he grew up on. This was the standard plot device used in those classic gangster flicks that dominated the movies in the thirties and forties. Typically two close friends or brothers are depicted; one stays and becomes a career criminal while the other winds up either as the honest District Attorney or the neighborhood priest. In either case the story was driven by the sharp contrast achieved by juxtaposing the lives of the pair. The crook has material wealth but no true happiness unlike the poor but happy honest man. Yes, it was ultimately a morality play but that is what made the flicks work out so well. In the case of ‘The Son of No One’ the entire story is on the shoulders of former male model/ dancer, Channing Tatum. Although a competent actor he is overshadowed by the legendary
Al Pacino. Mr. Pacino mat be taking some dubious roles lately but he is still one of the most charismatic and emotionally intense actors around. This is a great career move for Tatum working opposite a much better actor in order to hone his own ability.

For Jonathan (Channing Tatum) growing up in the Queensboro Projects was a traumatic experience. Confronted by a crack head he accidently kills the addict. This was quickly followed by another act of violence that deleteriously Jonathan and his childhood best friend, Vinnie (Tracy Morgan). When the police hiring freeze was lifted after 9-11 Jonathan joins the New York Police Department and is assigned to his old neighborhood. After a concerted effort to forget the past and move on he finds himself inexorably drawn back into events that were best left buried. At home his wife Kerry (Katie Holmes) is trying her best to cope with being the spouse of a cop and a mother of a sick child but the stress is beginning to get to both of them. The drama for the young officer is greatly compounded when am investigative journalist, Loren Bridges ((Juliette Binoche), begins to publish letters claiming information pertaining to the long forgotten murder Jonathan is naturally distraught. These anonymous letters begin to raise suspicion about the cold case including the concern of his superior, Captain Marion Mathers (Ray Liotta). Since Jonathan was part of the neighborhood at the time of the crime and knew the participants the captain tasks him with uncovering the source of the mysterious letters. Jonathan recalls how he was treated well by the detective in charge of the original investigation, Charles Stanford (Al Pacino) so he reaches out to him without much success. He also tries reaching out to his old friend Vinnie but he is psychologically damaged almost beyond repair. This leaves the belabored office on his own as he is forced to confront the worse demons of his life.

Although this flick does posses all the elements required for a taut police procedural thriller they just cannot quite gel properly. Dito Montiel both wrote the screenplay and directed the film and he is still on a learning curve in both capacities. True, he has a couple of films under his belt they have not adequately prepared him to take on what can easily become a complicate plot line. It is necessary to establish and maintain two parallel story lines; one past, one present. What happened here is Montiel was unable to achieve a proper balance and the narrative was lost. The third act is traditionally tricky to handle but here it completely falls apart under its own weight. Far too many threads are left unaccounted for leaving an unsatisfactory conclusion. Montiel is still at the point of experimenting with his directorial style. While he demonstrates potential he’s not quite there yet. This resulted in the age old problem of more sizzle than steak. The premise was strong and the cast excellent but without a solid script and an overly stylized direction the film falls short of coming together. What should have been a psychological thriller is reduced to a melodrama. Al Pacino may be past his prime but he can still over power any scene he appears in. Tatum is trying his best to establish himself as an action oriented leading man but it might be to his advantage for him to take a few character oriented role to help sharpen his acting skills. Actors who spend some time as character actors when they do break through to the lead tend to make spectacular actors. It’s a descent beer and pizza flick but could have been so much more.

Posted 02/18/12

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