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|Cinema Signal: A sloppy mess of a movie with a few classy cast members and an eerily interesting soundtrack.|
"The Son of No One"
The first we see of the son referred to in the title is when he's pre-teen Jonathan "Milk" White (Jake Cherry, "Night at the Museum"). He is inexplicably sitting silently in a room in the projects in which he lives in Astoria, Queens, a crime-ridden area. Twitchy and silent, we eventually see that he's holding a small handgun. He seems to be waiting, but for what or whom, we don't know. When a local addict looking for a hiding place comes running into the room, the boy blasts him. The baby-faced kid, who doesn't look like he would step on an ant at a picnic, is a killer.
Now, you'd expect the cops would be swarming the place and taking the kid in for questioning, fingerprinting, mug shot, etc. But it doesn't go that way. Instead, detective Charles Stanford (ageing Al Pacino) comes by for an interview, which he stages on a bench in plain sight of every window facing that side of the apartment building, and lets the kid know that he's essentially off the hook. Why? Well, maybe because Stanford was once Jonathan's father's partner. Case closed.
Only it opens again when the kid causes the death of someone else, this time a neighbor and this time more like an accident than a snuff job. Case open. Another visit by ex-partner Stanford. Case closed again.
To Jonathan and his best friend and confidante Vinny Carter (Brian Gilbert) there's nothing trivial about what this mostly speechless kid has done, even if he does have an angel looking after him. Or, is that a devil because it becomes a hidden secret he'll bear for the rest of his life? Vinny swears never to mention Milk's acts to anyone.
Time passes and we see what became of the boys in intercutting flashbacks almost immediately and with considerable confusion. The adult Jonathan is now played by Channing Tatum with whom writer-director Dito Montiel worked in the barely okay "Fighter." He's still morose and as disinclined to speak as his younger version but it's very hard to put these two together as the same person. It took me a good twelve minutes to accept it as the intention of the movie.
The adult Milk, a nickname that sticks, is now married to Kerry (delicious Katie Holmes) and is thoroughly devoted to his sweet young daughter Charolette (Ursula Parker). He's also a cop -- a rookie -- following in his old man's footsteps. He partners with the much more loquacious Officer Thomas Prudenti (who provides some relief from all the passive moodiness.
Jonathan is shook up profoundly when two things happen. He's just been reassigned to the 118th precinct in Astoria, Queens, where his crimes happened those many years ago, giving his memories and sense of guilt an electrified restart. And, someone else has been aroused. It's as though one person with a knowledge of the crimes wants the secret and the coverup exposed. The first of many letters has been received by the local paper and published, stirring up the precinct and, essentially, reopening the case.
Eventually, Jonathan's chief, Captain Marion Mathers (Ray Liotta) gets in his face over it, trying to figure out how to deal with the letter campaign and the embarassment it is causing the force. Jonathan pays a visit to the Queen's Gazette where crusading editor Loren Bridges (Juliette Binoche with a Frenchwoman's version of a Queens accent) shows little sympathy for Jonathan's request to just stop printing them.
Milk, now fearing for his family, looks up old buddy Vinny (now played by Tracy Morgan) who denies being the letter writer or ever telling anyone about the past -- something that seems to Jonathan as unlikely, they and Stanford being the only ones who knew.
Understatement and minimal dialogue are only two symptoms of the isolation from understanding we feel in the unsteady journey Montiel is taking us on. Break out the dramamine! But he did two things right in what might justifiably be called a mess. He managed to cast a few talents to suggest quality (Holmes most of all) and, in his most positive move, he hired composers Jonathan Elias and David Wittman who provided the single most interesting element of the movie with an elegiac drum and string soundtrack that suggests something dreadful, something sinister, an underlying darkness threatening to explode.
His choice of Tatum and Cherry as the same person never gels even though they match up just fine for lack of expression. As neither has a "voice" as character nor as actor, the similarity in this one attribute, if you can call it that, dooms the project from the start. As the single character everything revolves around in the endless flashback-flashforward pattern, the pairing is a major cause of a film disaster with more loose ends than granny's wig.
I don't know which was the bigger scam, the veteran detective defying the law or the senseless melodrama that's been put on film by a man who doesn't know how dependent he is on actors who can self-direct.
A long list of producers can be an indication of a problem production and I find sixteen of them (including Montiel and his editor, Jake Pushinsky) contributing to something I'm sure they all hoped would turn out far better. Perhaps there was way too much hope for a hopeless script and poor judgement in casting the two actors who make up the central role... and for the man most responsible for it.
~~ Jules Brenner