First-time writer-director Benjamin Busch has created a fine film, with an excellent cast and acting, great production values, and the same judicious eye he brings to his other métier as a fine-art photographer. Rarely has so ambitious an effort succeeded so well and with such highly limited resources and a suffocatingly tight production schedule. Featuring a cast and crew almost completely drawn from the HBO original series "The Wire," "Sympathetic Details" is full of talent and made with care both in front of and behind the camera. From its seemingly banal yet arresting opening monologue to its devastating ending, the film catches you up in its thought-provoking twists on the hit-man genre.
This is a film into every aspect of which great thought and all deliberate care was injected. In his notes on the film, provided along with its entry in February in the Almost Famous Film Festival (A3F) in downtown Phoenix, Busch discusses the levels of meaning contributed by his choices of settings, props and the composition of the shots. Apart from the narrative level in which a hit-man with a conscience is enveloped in ever-shifting mazes of intrigue, there are larger philosophical themes at play, contrasting the ways in which we care for one another (or don't) with the cold indifference of Nature, the universe--with its lack of intrinsic meaning or purpose. This film stood head and shoulders above other A3F entries, many of which held their own as typical fare of a lower-tier short film festival. (We say that in all fondness for it, as a past judge for, sponsor of, and writer about the event.)
Regrettably, Busch had the time and resources to shoot only an hour-long movie, though his original script would have resulted in about a 95-minute feature. Regarding the abridged length, how can anyone, as a viewer, know or even guess how keeping the originally conceived elements of a unitary, coherent work of art would affect it? Possible lulls in the middle of this film are as easily a result of things not hanging together and propelling forward as well as they might, due to the missing elements.
In our opinion, this film cries out to be realized at its full intended length. Watching it, we seemed conscious that there were additional plot twists and nuances of character development and the characters' relationships that were missing from the screen and that we, and the film, would have benefited from incorporating.
However, we have found the somewhat opaque title less than apt, not very conducive to piquing initial interest in the film. Granted, it references a meaningful moment and catch-phrase in the film, but it's a bit esoteric and also doesn't trip too easily off the tongue.
Back to the performances: Yes, there may be a few stiff moments, but it's correct to dwell more on the predominant, noteworthy turns on the part of Busch's comrades from "The Wire" (and the one or two outside cast, such as Marisol Chacin), who clearly aren't chary with their talents. They evidently believed in both Busch and the material, and brought to bear their full acting skills in realizing characters the viewer buys into without reservation.
This is a film we'd have been glad to pay to see, and if there's a benefactor out there with the resources to help see it brought to full feature length, we'll be glad to sing its further praises to them. In the meantime, attendees at other film fests in which it's entered are in for a treat. And we WILL pay to see it when it graduates to merited commercial status. Republication of preview and folo articles on A3F and "Sympathetic Details" can be found by googling the name of our print publication, The Midtown Messenger, and clicking on the link for its blog.
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