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I'm gonna try just a straightforward review here, but just to be clear, even if Breanne wasn't SimplyScripts OG, it would still be true to say at the outset that the script is the strongest part of the movie, and the movie's pretty good, so that's high praise.
Well okay. Bruce Dern is the strongest part of the project, but the script is a very close second
James Earl Jones is great, too, but unlike Dern, he's seriously undercut by inconsistent direction. This is one of the two big problems with the movie; not that the directing is bad, just that it doesn't cohere. Dern gets a chance to shine in part because he's given beautiful static frames and slow cutting to do his scene in. Jones' performance could never have succeeded with emotion-telegraphing music blaring over the dialogue and arbitrary camera moves sweeping around the room. There are a lot of directorial choices throughout the film that seem to take their cue from the "don't let them stop and think, they might get bored" approach that's necessary in TV, and they all harm the movie. The slider shots, the handheld with shutter speed stuff during a murder scene, the establishing shots with lenses that make you feel like you're being sold a house, etc., all make for a distracted watch.
But I choose the term "distracted" because Warning Shot is really engaging in its quieter moments. The movie's at its best when it just lets the actors work the scenes, and the second act in particular really shows how exciting it can be when someone bothers to give a unique treatment to a fairly familiar genre setup. The chiaroscuro lighting, for example, seems like just a very odd choice until you start to catch on to the ways that the film in general deviates from the standard home invasion model. It's got noir lighting because it has a noir sensibility about theme, and the same way that the characters leave a sort of typical low-budget prestige thriller look in the first act for locked-in noir lighting in the second act, the story suddenly goes on a psychological deep dive -- characters trapped in a house together, not captors and captives but everyone captive to something -- that reminds us that home invasion can be a trope without being a full genre formula.
Most of the pressure to pull off this balance falls on Guillermo DŪaz, who has the biggest split, moving from slack-jawed goon in the first act to surprise psychological sadist in the second act. His name's Rainy, like the kind of day you save for, a naturally malevolent force (and our protag says as much out loud). He's the one who has to make us believe that standard home invasion goon antics can pivot to metaphysical subtext without the movie falling apart. He's not good enough, and that's the other big problem in the movie. Like Nic Cage at the start of Face/Off, he's not having any fun, and I think that's the problem -- we can buy the pivot if he's been having us on the whole time and laughing sadistically behind his dumb goon smile, but this guy can lick shit off a window and not even find that funny. Instead of one dangerously unpredictable character, DŪaz basically gives us two characters, playing both well but just alternating scene to scene as the script requires. I feel pretty confident that the complete character is right there on the page, but DŪaz doesn't find it. The movie's biggest sin by far is that when Rainy threatens rape, you just plain don't believe him.
Whaley's good, though not exactly stretching; Spade's stretching, and not exactly good. The Dern/Spade stuff works really well, and I think it's a great piece of casting overall, but when Spade gets a knife in the leg late in the game, he can't help but do a pratfall -- too much comedy in the muscle memory. And speaking of physicality, it's actually Dwight Henry's odd turn as Jawari that carries off a lot of the story's unique ideas. The way this guy moves tells you a lot about how it feels to have his life, and this, coupled with his quiet resignation and total lack of malignity, go a long way in helping you feel out some of the movie's central concerns. You could imagine Henry doing the same thing in an adaptation of Hemingway's The Killers, and it would get at the core there, too.
There's some weird coverage and some weirder editing (not to get on the establishing shots again, but why are they so short, but the film generally looks good and frequently looks great. Once we're in the house, there's a clear visual concept that really pays off in in some of the portrait shots, and we never get tired of looking at the living room, which is no small feat for a movie like this.
I haven't said much about the script. It's got all the usual "Why didn't they--" moments in the latter half, but I think that's just inevitable with the genre. No-one ties anyone up as thoroughly or as often as they should, and Jawari is way too relaxed about Rainy from the bird shit forward (part of the problem here could have been solved in casting; if Jawari was overtly bigger, stronger, in physical control of the situation from the get-go, this problem would go away). But that's all fairly irrelevant to the reasons to watch and enjoy this story, I think. The script is most interested in finding out how people will act when a warning shot is fired, and it brings this home beautifully in a way that feels organic -- for a movie with various gunpoint confessions, everything feels remarkably natural. There are many monologues in this movie and they're all interesting, a major testament to the writing and to the many good production choices.
The aspect that I've declared the movie's biggest sin is a script problem, too -- Rainy turns it up to 11 almost instantly, and we really needed some time to track his character reveal. We get a lot of justification for his peculiar resentment of our protag in the second half of the script (including through one of those excellent monologues), but it ends up feeling a little bit post-hoc despite how well it's developed. I think the front of the home invasion stuff was lacking in time to see things build up for Rainy -- there's something about this day that's different, there's something about this woman that means he has to ruin everything. It's all in the movie, but I wanted to fear it before I saw it -- to feel the restraint and the menace building inside him, contained, before everything really jumped off. You wanna feel that this moment is special to Rainy, that the stakes are high for him, too, and you get the justification later in the film, but you don't get to feel it while it's still just potential, still just menace.
Okay, that's a lot of words. This is a sincerely-made low-budget film that put a lot of effort into being unique and into being entertaining, and that's a heck of a recommendation even if it wasn't also written by a great and very talented person.
Thank you so much for checking the film out and taking the time to let me know what you think. It really means a lot.
I canít really say I disagree with anything youíve said. The only thing I can really add is to say some of your points were addressed in the script. For example; their hands were tied behind their backs. I was frustrated when the decision was made to have their hands tied in front for the convenience of the actors.
I certainly donít want to pass blame. Some of the changes were for the better. Every film has flaws no matter how hard you try. Under the circumstances, Iím confident everyone did their best. I accept all the reviews; good or bad. I absolutely LOVE reading reviews from people who seem to have grasped what we were going for, even when they serve a heaping helping of constructive criticism to go along with it. Iím taking what I can from them and I plan to use it to do better in the future.
In the end, I got an amazing experience. I worked with some awesome people, both in front of and behind the cameras. I have a movie that, despite its flaws, I ultimately feel good about.
I figure people who appreciate your film are the people itís ultimately made for. Iím so grateful for people like you and I canít thank you enough for your support.
Gutted that it doesn't appear to be on Amazon Prime in the UK yet ;-(
It's not on Prime here either. You have to buy it or rent it. I bought it and I'm glad I did. Suicide theory and WS are some of the best indie films I've seen. Mayhem was good too, but that was not an indie film. I'm super happy to see some SS members getting up there with quality films under their belts.
I have no idea, but it makes me wonder if it's better for the filmmakers and those involved, if it's better for them if a movie is available to rent, buy or featured on prime?
I donít know either, but personally I welcome all the support we can get. Iím not sure how much it matters since its success is almost entirely dependent on word of mouth. Youtube, for example, carries it but I canít find it browsing.
If thatís the case then everyone should definitely rent it.
I was also wondering about this! If you happen to get any information about the best way to buy the movie in terms of how the most money gets back to you and the rest of the filmmakers, I'd love to know. I rented through Google Play and was planning on buying a DVD, but maybe there's a different means of purchase that's better for you and your team?
The writer gets paid at the start... if they see any royalties, it's a long way down the line. Most of the time, at least IME, contracts give royalties on 'net' profit. This means that all of the expenses of the film must be covered first. All of the Exec's get their money back as well as any profits. With indies, I'm not sure there is such a thing as net profit. Films have to recoup millions before the writer sees a penny from net.
As an example, I know the writer of Green Street... pretty popular film that was released in 2005. The writer has yet to see a penny in royalties. The execs and all the top guys take all the profits.
I tried to negotiate a slice of gross profit once but lost the deal through being too greedy.
If you happen to get any information about the best way to buy the movie in terms of how the most money gets back to you and the rest of the filmmakers, I'd love to know. I rented through Google Play and was planning on buying a DVD, but maybe there's a different means of purchase that's better for you and your team?
I donít know if any particular way is best. As Dustin said, I was paid up front when the script was purchased. I do have backend but donít know when or if Iíll ever make money from it. I just hope the film does well. I tend to focus on things like making another movie. I just want to do it again lol.
It hasn't been released in Spain either . So we'll have to wait...
Sorry. I had no idea it wouldnít be available somewhere. I just assumed everyone in Spain or England had the same basic access to Youtube or Amazon as people in the U.S. Iím sorry to hear that. I have no idea why things would be like that. IĎll definitely see if I can find out more information.