Man From Reno (2014) Film Review, a movie directed by Dave Boyle, and starring Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna, Kazuki Kitamura,Yasuyo Shiba, Hiroshi Watanabe, Tetsuo Kuramochi, Yuki Matsuzaki, Shiori Ideta, Elisha Skorman, Masami Kosaka, Rome Kanda, Ross Turner, Thomas Cokenias, Geo Epsilanty and Ron Eliot
The dim light of a car’s dashboard casts a soft glow on the face of a haggard old Sheriff (Pepe Serna) as he cruises down a desolate California highway. The car’s headlights fade into the thick plumes of fog that mask the road ahead. Tires screech as the car crashes into an ill-fated wanderer, sending his unconscious body flailing against the hood. After the run down wanderer disappears from the local hospital before the Sheriff can question him, the stage is set for a neo-noir style thriller. Man From Reno’s thrilling first scene establishes a stylish hard-boiled tone reminiscent of Chinatown and Sin City. Unfortunately, the rest of the film never recaptures the promise offered in its first five minutes. Man From Reno’s main issue is that it tries too hard to break new ground and subvert audience expectations. The result is an intricate story that falls short of its own lofty ambitions.
The film’s second story shifts focus to renowned mystery writer Aki Akahori (Ayako Fujitani). Aki begins to cave under the pressure of her Inspector Takabe novel press tour and spirals into a state of listlessness. To escape the media spotlight, Aki slips away across the ocean to San Francisco. Depressed and feeling isolated, Aki gets seduced by a handsome and enigmatic Japanese traveller named Akira (Kazuki Kitamura). The day after their tryst, Akira vanishes, leaving behind only a suitcase. The amateur detective in Aki can’t help but follow the trail of clues leading back to Akira. Much like any solid thriller, that trail consists of secrets, lies and murder.
Inordinately complicated, convoluted stories are a corner stone of this style of pulpy thriller. Man From Reno fumbles with these tricky elements due to its poor pacing. The film employs too many plot threads that serve to disrupt the momentum of the main mystery. The most egregious example is how the plot sets up the sheriff’s daughter Teresa (Elisha Skorman) to emerge from her father’s shadow. The film spends too much time establishing the dynamics of their working relationship for it to not payoff. The back-story about Aki’s reasons for writing and her former lover’s best friend is also not as integral to the plot as the film would have us believe. Hitchcock style murder mysteries have taught audiences that every character is a suspect. Superfluous characters and inconsequential back-story distracts viewers, kills momentum and contributes to mental fatigue.
Despite its pacing issues, the film manages to tell a solid story. Del Moral and Aki’s stories were each compelling enough so that it never felt like a letdown when the film switched back and forth between them. And yet, the film was most entertaining when the two seemingly disparate plots came together. After the two leads finally teamed up, it disappointed me that the film did not bring them together earlier in the story. The duo’s chemistry during their brief stint together reinvigorated the stagnant middle portion of the movie. All the exposition and clue chasing in the middle of the film felt cold and plodding. The second act could have used more of Sheriff Del Moral’s paternal presence to keep the audience emotionally invested in the story.
The film’s leads Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna and Kazuki Kitamura each provided dexterous performances. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast ranged from mediocre to forgettable. Fujitani’s complex portrayal of Aki is somewhat uneven. Fujitani believably flips her emotional switch between the ennui that drove Aki into hiding in America and the innate curiosity that drives her to investigate the film’s mystery. Pepe Serna gives us a charismatic turn as small town Sheriff Paul Del Moral. Serna imbues the film with enough authority and charm to offset Aki’s cold fish exterior. Kazuki Kitamura steals every scene scene with his cocksure portrayal of Akira. As Akira, he delivers the kind of performance that will send people to imdb in rabid search of more Kazuki Kitamura roles.
Man From Reno’s cinematography is the glue that holds the film together. Even in moments of silence, this film consistently tells a story with its stunning visuals. Director Dave Boyle and cinematographer Richard Wong’s work behind the camera conveys an oppressive tension that sets the foreboding tone which is the backbone of the film. The movie’s crew displayed an adept skill at capturing interior shots with a majestic reverence. In one scene, a casual meeting in a hotel lobby is so well shot that it comes across with an air of imperial decadence. In another scene, a warm golden light envelops Aki and Akira as they lay naked, enjoying each other’s embrace. The exceptional cinematography also converts what should be a bustling San Francisco into a cold, alien and deserted landscape, perfectly reflecting Aki’s emotional isolation.
In order to keep the audience emotionally off balance, Man From Reno’s score employs a variety of traditional and unconventional instrumentation. Micah Dahl Anderson’s music enhances the film on two fronts. It helps convey emotional consistency in scenes featuring uneven performances and adds subtle nuance to the instances where the actors are on top of their game. During Aki’s most solemn moments, the chillingly somber cadence of piano keys helps connect the audience to her feelings of isolation. Man From Reno’s penetrating score and moody visuals created an intense atmosphere that kept the tension ratcheted up even when the intricate plot slowed the film’s momentum down to a crawl.
Time is a finite resource, and during the middle of this film, I had to consider if I was wasting my most precious commodity. Thankfully, Dave Boyle proved my impatience unwarranted. Like an anaconda wrapping itself around a hapless victim, Boyle slowly raised the film’s intensity with an unrelenting vice grip that devoured my waning attention. After a muddled second act, the film regained its composure in time for a satisfying conclusion. Dave Boyle’s overflowing love for this film is the passionate adhesive that binds all of the film’s shaky pieces together. Although not an exceptional movie in any one facet, Man From Reno provides an experience greater than the sum of its parts.
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