After being very impressed by writer/director Dito Montiel’s debut film ‘A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints’, I labeled him a filmmaker to watch. His sophomore feature ‘Fighting’ was very mediocre and a definite step back for Montiel. Now, his third film ‘The Son of No One’ has arrived, and if it’s a step forward for him, it’s a minuscule one, and more likely an overall step back. The potential is there for a great, gritty cop drama, but it’s maddeningly inconsistent, made all the more so by a few very nice scenes surrounded by mediocrity. Mostly, you just wonder how a screenplay that makes as little sense as this could have been chosen for production. What should be an intimate study of how old secrets can come back to haunt you is just bogged down by illogical moments and plot holes galore. Montiel still might be a director with a future, but when you get a cast that includes Al Pacino, Juliette Binoche, Katie Holmes, Ray Liotta, Tracy Morgan, and yes, Channing Tatum (though he’s actually fine), but do absolutely nothing with them…that’s just a troubling sign for any filmmaker. I definitely was expecting more from this film.
The story follows a young cop named Jonathan White (Tatum) who’s assigned to patrol from a precinct in the same neighborhood that he grew up in. When White was a young man, he was attacked by some violent junkies in a bathroom in the projects. White was able to use a gun on the junkies and kill them, something witnessed by White’s friend Vinny (Brian Gilbert). The boy avoids any sort of trouble due to his Detective godfather Charles Stanford (Pacino), who tampers with the scene. This event comes into play in the present when a local newspaper editor named Loren Bridges (Binoche) starts receiving anonymous letters that shed light on what actually happened. This all begins to affect the psyche of White, who wants to be a good cop but can’t escape the past. The ingredients for a well thought out psychological drama are there, but Montiel handles it all in such a messy and logic-ignoring way that you lose most of the goodwill you initially feel for the flick.
The acting isn’t bad, but none of it is strong enough to rise above the screenplay. Channing Tatum almost always underwhelms me as an actor (with the exception of his first collaboration with Montiel in ‘A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints’ and in Kimberly Peirce’s Iraq drama ‘Stop-Loss’, but here he does a rather solid job as the cop losing his mind amid his past coming back to haunt him. I’d never say it’s great work, but he does a good enough job to make you almost care about this underwritten character. The same goes for Al Pacino, who doesn’t nearly ham it up like he usually does. That being said, he’s hardly memorable here. Juliette Binoche is never bad, but she’s given very little to work with, and Katie Holmes has even less. I did like Tracy Morgan’s small but serious part as White’s friend in adulthood, but he’s not in it enough. Ditto for Ray Liotta. The rest of the cast includes Jake Cherry as the younger White, Ursula Parker, James Ransone, and Gilbert. The performances by this crew are about the only thing saving this movie from being something actually bad.
Dito Montiel is not without talent, but if you didn’t already know that, nothing in this flick would lead you to believe it. His direction is ham-fisted, the script is utterly stupid at times, and for every good scenes, there’s 3 less than stellar ones. Montiel’s main crime here is over-relying on flashbacks to tell what’s not that complicated a story. Instead of focusing on the characters, he avoids them, and it wastes the talent of the actors. Perhaps next time around he’ll do better, but it may just be that Montiel thrived on telling a personal story with ‘A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints’ (he wrote the book before making the film) and removed from that, he’s a thoroughly average and unmemorable filmmaker.
‘The Son of No One’ never becomes a parody of itself, but it’s so lacking that it’s only a few steps removed from that uninviting territory. I never had Oscar aspirations for this movie, but I definitely expected more from this. I can’t recommend this to anyone, but if you’re determined to see this, it might not be the worst option. That being said, there are hosts of better options out there. This just isn’t worth your time…
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