I've said it before, and I'll say it again: there are certain films I will go easier on than others. And the new film “Heavy Hands” is one of them. Fair? No. But this is just a warning of both of my bias and that you will be spared some of my usual (and apparently somewhat enjoyable) crazed ranting.
And if it is to be spared somewhat, then you must realize it is because I have watched a local film made on a shoestring budget. By local filmmaker Sean Williamson no less. If you're a creative and/or pretentious type, you might know him for his involvement in a few local bands, as well as a novelist and music video director who won the award best video at the 2012 Radio Milwaukee Music Awards. (Hate him yet?)
But on to “Heavy Hands” itself. Williamson wrote, directed, and plays the lead role of the aimless slacker named Jimmy Lee who just happens to have stolen from a few low-level redneck criminals. What did he steal exactly? The movie isn't interested in telling you or in spelling things out in general; it's more interested in showing the ramifications and the effects on the characters involved.
Not a fan of blood or violence? Well, have no fear. There is no blood, and much of the violence isn't shown. This isn't torture porn, it's an art house film and all that implies.
And therein lies the problem. I am not the proper audience for such a film: I'm not a subtle person, I lose patience quickly, I bore easily, and don't particularly like loose ends or not knowing things. But even I could find some enjoyment here.
The main problem is I feel like I've seen this movie before. The usual aforementioned elements are all present: the film is shot in black and white in a depressing, meaningless world and features an engaging anti-hero and some interesting supporting characters (played by Frankie Latina and Mark Borchardt) that fans of Milwaukee films will recognize.
While it is gorgeously shot and makes great use of the its images, I just wish some of the characters were given as much attention. Focusing on low-level crooks is again nothing new. What makes these types of films interesting is that said crooks are somehow engaging even in their stupidity or quiet competence. Jimmy Lee is somewhat interesting, but he doesn't say enough, he isn't explored enough, and neither are his antagonists or cohorts. As a result, they never truly pull you in and make you care enough. So the movie feels long (with only about an hour's run time) and somewhat dull at points.
However, I remain inclined to recommend it. Since this is Sean Williamson's first film, you can perceive the potential of a filmmaker who is still trying to find his voice. He is the rare amateur artist that leaves you wanting more, one where you can (at times quite literally) see the filmmakers who inspire him. But at this stage, they're as much of a burden as an inspiration.
Heavy Hands plays Thursday, Dec. 13 at the Oriental Theatre at 7 p.m. There is an after party at the Hotel Foster.
You can listen to my interview with Sean Williamson on Riverwest Radio here: http://riverwestradio.com/a-reel-of-ones-own-december-1st-2012/