Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Son of No One: A Review


Some men just shouldn't have mustaches.  Channing Tatum is one of them. 

With The Son of No One, I have to reluctantly give Tatum credit for at least attempting a more sober, serious drama than what is usual Tatum fare (either a romance, a military role, or a combination).  I figure the mustache was an effort to add to a more serious stab at being a deeper, richer dramatic actor.

If only The Son of No One wasn't so inept.

The story by writer/director Dito Montiel jumps between 1986 and 2002.  In 1986 we have Jonathan White (Jake Cherry), nicknamed Milk (I figure because he's apparently the only white boy in the Queensboro Projects).  Although he's the son of a cop, he's surrounded by violence and drugs, living with his grandmother after his dad is killed in the line of duty. 

In one awful night, Milk is forced to kill a junkie who stormed into his apartment.  He and his best friend Vinny (Brian Gilbert) hide the body, but someone knows what they did.  Although he can't prove it, Detective Stanford (Al Pacino) suspects Milk committed the crime.

As it happens, Milk and Vinny plan to run away, but the secret witness threatens Milk, demanding money for silence.  Again, accidentally, Milk kills this guy, and again, he and Vinny hide the body, and again, Stanford suspects.  This time, he has the gun from the first crime but opts to keep this a cold case.  Vinny, unfortunately, has mental issues, and is sent back to a mental hospital.

Our 2002 story has now-Officer White (Tatum) temporarily transferred back to the old neighborhood.  His wife Kerry (Katie Holmes) isn't happy about him working in Queens rather than home at Staten Island. He is doing his best with his new partner Prudenti (James Ransone) and Captain Mathers (Ray Liotta).  Unfortunately, Loren Bridges (Juliette Binoche) a local newspaper reporter, has been getting letters about two unsolved murders from 1986.  The letters get more threatening, promising to reveal the identity of the killer. 

White is becoming unnerved that his secret from long ago will be exposed, but he sees that Vinny (Tracy Morgan) is still a bit unstable.  Soon White's family is threatened, Bridges is gunned down, and we see that his transfer was to see if either he or Vinny were writing these letters, which named Stanford as the killer.  Mathers happens to be not only Stanford's probable successor but his godson and Prudenti a relative. 

In a 'big' twist, White comes to Vinny's rescue (since the trio were going to kill him and end the case), though he couldn't in the climatic shootout.  Eventually, we find who actually wrote the letters: it is Vicky (Decorte Snipes), Vinny's sister and Milk's friend who like Vinny still lives in the old neighborhood.  She wanted justice for her brother, but now releases Milk to live his life.

Image result for the son of no oneIf you think that having a character who is barely there in the 1986 storyline ends up being the culprit is a cheat, I imagine that you would not like The Son of No One.  It also shows the chief problem in the film: it makes no sense on many levels. 

If Bridges is such a bright reporter, why didn't she make the connection between Stanford investigating these long-ago crimes and the fact that White was the son of his former partner?  Also, if she's so bright wouldn't you think she would have some kind of protection?  Exactly how does Stanford come to the conclusion that Milk (and Vinny) come to pin the crimes of people they ostensibly have never met on either of them? 

The letters were written in a threatening manner, so how could anyone imagine that someone as mentally damaged as Vinny could write letters that sound as if they were written by a sound mind?  Further, how does Vicky know about the second death when she wasn't there (unless Vinny in his mentally confused state told her).  Add to that the idea that pinning the crimes on Stanford (which she knew he didn't actually commit) would help her brother in any way is ridiculous. 

If White is the one writing the letters (which Mathers, Stanford, and Prudenti think), why would he write about something that would implicate himself in?  Furthermore, if there is still doubt about him being the author, why try to kill him without knowing for sure?

It's as if no one thought any of this through.  Even on small things we see the story coming apart all over the place.  In 1986, the guy who finds out about the first killing threatens to tell the cops unless the dead junkie's debt is paid by the kids.  To prove he's serious, this guy (and no, I didn't catch his name) is waving around the murder weapon.  All I could think of was, 'the police won't believe you because the gun has YOUR fingerprints all over it'.  It's just one bungle after after, until the story becomes too disjointed and silly to believe.

It doesn't even try at times, it doesn't even try to make things mysterious.  The voice that threatens Kerry is so obviously Liotta's that it almost makes one wonder if we're suppose to know long before the characters.

Image result for the son of no one
We also have a gathering of some lousy acting.  I never saw Dawson's Creek, and I don't think I've ever seen a Katie Holmes film apart from Batman Begins, but I have to think she's a better actress than she is in The Son of No One.  She has one expression throughout, whether she's being threatened or suspecting Jonathan of having an affair.  It's as if she decided to match Channing Tatum in terms of acting style. 

Tatum is still amazingly emotionless, a man who just cannot express anything on screen.  His continued career is still a great puzzlement to me.  It's a good thing that he is venturing to what appears to be more serious fare, but he can't pull it off.  There's never an ability to change his face, and on screen he's always so stiff.

I give credit to Morgan for trying to portray a mentally battered man, even if given some of his public behavior, playing a mentally questionable man might not be the best choice, and he did a surprisingly good job.  Binoche played her part as though she frankly was too smart to believe any of this. 

It's unfortunate that Liotta was reduced to doing nothing but being permanently angry, given that he's a better actor than he's been given credit for.  Ransone has a more interesting character as the bigoted, angry Prudenti, but the twist of him being in league with Mathers and Stanford just seems silly. 

However, it's not as silly as Al Pacino, who is just coasting in The Son of No One.  Given Pacino has given some simply great performances, here he doesn't bother to show up. 

Truth be told, the best performances are from Cherry and Gilbert.  I would have preferred to have seen their whole story rather than jump back and forth between them and 2002.  I think if the film had devoted more time to how the situations got to the killings, what they did to get away from it, and how it affected them at the time, with maybe a minor part of the film in the present day.  Also, I think the jumping back and forth, while not confusing, proved a bit aggravating.

The Son of No One never worked because some of the people involved tried to be too artsy with the material and some weren't trying at all to make it work.  It's a story that jumps around figuratively and literally and just falls apart. 

When we see exactly who unleashed all this chaos, it really is a cop-out.


1 comment:

  1. Ok...finally a review I totally agree with! Mostly!
    The jumping around bit between when the killings happened to the present is confusing but moreso, annoying. Just do the beginning and go to the present..ugh. As a mystery, thriller, horror writer, I hate confusion unless it plays a purpose. No purpose here but to annoy.
    Montiel is a crafted writer and I loved "Saints" but I honestly didn't read the books and we all know books are always better than their movies. Maybe he should have agreed to some assistance in the way this movie was done. Not all great ideas of writers are..uh..great.
    I liked the characters portrayed, but we all know a dark piece like this doesn't have the ability or need, to show a spectrum of emotions...expressions meet the need of the piece, and here it was gloom. I think they all portrayed that well.

    I don't care for Holmes, and Tatum is just delicious, but he's a good serious actor as is iconic Liotta(miss you bud) and Pacino.
    If you want a kaleidoscope of emotion and expressions, don't go to a gloomy, serious movie about lies, coverups and deception. Ain't gonna happen. Tatum does express through minimal expression, not overacting as so many do. We feel his pain, anxiety and self doubt perfectly as he does it. Morgan did a great job as a guilt ridden PTSD struck kid who never quite got over the horror of his experience. If only he knew what Vicky was doing. I believed him when he professed, he'd never tell. He didn't. I'm only angry that, like review stated, the newswoman was an idiot and as a journalist, she didn't dig deeper to see the who's, why's and not just the what's.
    Lots of holes in this, and it's hard to write without a few, but, we needed those questions answered, like loyalty...there was a hella lot of that and White seemed to expect and believe in it. Killing the 2 that were killed, was easily a self defense case and old man Pacino could have easily made that case, but then they'd have no story to tell. Sometimes we have to sacrifice rational thought and action for our storyline. Montiel did just that.
    Sacrifice was a lot in this mix..adding the sick child wasn't needed, but felt like a punishment as Karma played one on White.
    Overall, emotional, thought provoking and real in my opinion. Would I want to hold that secret and expect my friend to do the same, yes and no. For the sake of a good story, it was needed and proved a terrible deception when the cops all jump to the most obvious person giving away the goods.
    A little more thought could have had Vicky the suspect but I would have used a secret witness, nobody suspected who saw it all.


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Thank you.