Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Public Ransom by Pablo D'Stair

Pablo D'Stair is one of my favorite authors. His writing is unique. I know that's a cliche, but it's also true. There's never any question you're reading a D'Stair book or story--his voice is that powerful.

He also has his own set of ideas and ways of approaching a story. A D'Stair premise involves isolation, transgression (or more questioning what transgression is), paranoia, self-questioning, and cigarettes.

Lots and lots of cigarettes.

So D'Stair's first foray into film, A Public Ransom, is very, well, D'Stair, and that's a good thing. The premise is classic: A mediocre writer (Steven) is walking down the street when he sees a missing child poster that is (oddly enough) clearly the work of a child. Steven, figuring the whole thing a joke, calls the number and meets the guy who put it up, hoping to turn it around into a story. Turns out it's not a joke: Steven can save the missing child for the measly sum of $2,000, or he can let her die.

I usually hate writer characters, but I'll make an exception here. That the kidnapper is also a writer with a connection to a noted literary magazine just makes this even better. The script would read well on its own--the dialogue is sharp and propels the whole thing.

That said, D'Stair has mentioned that this film cost $70. And it shows! (I think the cigarettes were probably the biggest expense.) There are three amateur actors and no cameraman (literally every scene is one, stationary shot). Sometimes this works to the movie's favor--the settings exude a delightfully bleak and generic atmosphere, a bus stop in the snow, a laundromat, an alley. Sometimes it doesn't, such as the excess of scenes that solely involve Steven's side of a cell phone conversation.

For fans of D'Stair, A Public Ransom is a good (and free) way to spend 100 minutes. It's thoughtful and dark and odd--it's my kind of thing. He's already at work on a second film, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief, in which it appears that D'Stair plays a loser security guard (yes!).

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