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Dressed in his business attire and carrying an expensive briefcase, a marketing executive named Murray is taking a shortcut through an urban park in Toronto. Lost in a secluded area of the park, he gets into an altercation with a teen-aged punk, who unknown to Murray is only one of five - four guys and a girl - in a gang. Running to get away from the gang, Murray has the idea that he will climb up a large tree to hide out until the punks leave. Unfortunately for Murray, they find him in the tree. Initially, Murray believes he has no other alternative but to do what they say. But Murray and the punks soon realize that Murray has some leverage being where he is. This altercation soon becomes a standoff and a test of wills to see who can outlast the other, the standoff which includes both physical and emotional torment on both sides, the latter as each learns more about the other. Written by
Taking a page from old-fashioned, one-off thrillers from the Sixties and Seventies like LADY IN A CAGE or THE INCIDENT, writer/director William Phillips uses a deceptively simple plot to produce a psychological thriller/character study that at the very least is engaging. Thank goodness the producers made sure that it got a title change before reaching American screens. As it is, the new title "GET DOWN" may trick some people into thinking this is some kind of disco period piece like CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC. For anyone who may have given this film the brush-off for that reason, let me assure you: this one is WAY better.
The premise is straight to the point: a harried businessman, John Murray (David Hewlett from the excellent CUBE, another controversial indie flick), is on his way to work downtown, and probably late. Not wanting to be bothered by the homeless people and the panhandlers, he decides to take a short cut through the city park. Bad luck for him. On the way, he is stopped by a young thug whom he asks for directions. The teen demands money for his help, and when Murray refuses, the kid blocks his way and demands his wallet. P*ssed off by this, Murray pops the kid in the face with his briefcase, which results in the sudden appearance of the rest of the "gang" the young thug belongs to. WORSE luck for him.
A chase ensues, and a desperate Murray resorts to the only thing he thinks will prevent him from a severe beating: he climbs a very tall tree. Hence the title. Now a war of words, wills and wild attempts to get at him begins, revealing things about Murray and the young punks who are after him, that let the audience in on one important truth...none of us is better than anyone else, even when we'd like to believe we are. Because as it turns out, we are more alike than we want to admit, or may even realize.
For a small, short film with no big names to speak of, there are strong performances all round, with Hewlett leading the cast. Murray is not a likeable character, even when we know that he's in the right about defending himself, yet Hewlett still manages to make him seem human and flawed, rather than outright hateful, which would've been a major hardship for the film to overcome.
All the young performers are fairly good, with Cle Bennett a remarkable standout as the "gang's" leader, Shark. He has a lot of the same vibe and style as ANGEL'S J. August Richards, and I suspect it won't be too long before we end up seeing him getting a lot more work.
Though the socio-political and economic issues addressed here have reviewed before, and in much better fashion in other movies, at least Phillips guides his cast in a way that makes it all seem fresh and original. That said, the director couldn't miss throwing in a least one homage, namely to John Carpenter. It involves a very unexpectedly creepy scene, in which Murray witnesses first hand, the one thing that makes his aggressors actually run for the hills, (or in this case, the bushes.) It is a very goosebump-raising scene that carries with it echoes of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, and you've gotta love somebody with enough smarts and savvy to give 'props' to those two classics.
I'll give this four out of five stars. A bigger name cast and a more seasoned director would have raised GET DOWN'S cinematic pedigree, but as is, it won't leave you bored, and not too disappointed, (unless, like me, you don't get into the anti-climactic finish.)
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