Monday, June 30, 2014

The Smallest Oceans

(Note: I did not write this review. I acted in this movie. I'm including this review on my blog as it was the first film by my friend Jeremy Benson to attract attention outside of Memphis)

Sons Raising Fathers
by Alan Smithee
reviewed: 2005-03-15

Director: Jeremy Benson
Starring: Rezia Massey, Dan Poor, Corie Mitchell, Jonathan Butterick, Mark Williams, Rusty White and Claire Grant
Length: 102 minutes
Rated: NR
Rating: 3 STARS

No one knows why Toby is depressed most of the time. Freedom for him is usually only found at the bottom of a bottle of beer. And that kind of freedom is short-lived.

Bryant is a straight-shooter--a good looking boy who tries to do the right thing, the honorable thing. When his girlfriend becomes pregnant, he decides to marry her not really knowing whether he is in love. It's just the right thing to do.

"The Smallest Oceans" is an introspective drama with its heart in the right place. Hampered only by an uneven cast, it manages to sharply overcome its short-comings with a powerhouse ending of remarkable emotional command. The script weaves the central theme (concerning what it takes to be a father) throughout expertly with some references subtly nuanced.

Toby (Rezia Massey), Bryant (Dan Poor), Chris (Jonathan Butterick), and David (Mark Williams) have been friends their entire lives. Now that their high school days are behind them, they drift around town working odd jobs and getting drunk at field parties. They have general ideas concerning their future but have yet to form specific goals. Toby lost his mother at an early age and lives with his abusive alcoholic father and ailing grandfather. Bryant lost his father when he was young but still carries on a relationship with him in an idealized fashion by visiting his father's grave. Both boys are damaged emotionally and searching for a compass to direct them. That compass may have been their fathers at one point but now they float aimlessly as the world arbitrarily guides them hither and thither.

The film develops slowly introducing us to the large cast of characters all of whom are lifetime friends. Their bond is deep but secrets exist that grow like an infected wound. It does not appear that Toby's friends know of the abuse he experiences at the hands of his often drunk father. Had they known, perhaps their compassion for their friend would be therapeutic. But the wound is internal and emotional hidden but recognizable on the scowl that has become Toby's personality.

Writer/Director Jeremy Benson's personal story is amazing. He never received any formal film education and when EI's Rusty White met him, he was working in a hardware store in Memphis, Tennessee. At that time, he had already made his first feature film, "Friday's Menu," and so impressed Rusty that Rusty decided to dig deeper. In time, Rusty and Jeremy would become friends and the result is "The Smallest Oceans" Benson's most focused and technically superior feature to date.

Our very own Rusty White takes on the juicy role of the abusive alcoholic father in the film and does a wonderful job. Since Rusty is one of my dearest friends, I struggle to stay objective but there is no denying EI's elder writer's frightening on-screen presence. One cannot take one's eyes off Rusty whenever he occupies space in the film and this radiance is critical to the movie's concluding scenes.

Having watched this film develop since the script phase, I was surprised by how fully realized the final product is. Benson's attention to detail and use of digital video cameras and editing software is clearly top shelf. And his script is smart and taut unfolding meaningfully wasting little. While there are several comical moments, the story is pretty heavy stuff and the conclusion is so finely tuned that most viewers will be glad they stayed in their seats. It also makes clear that Benson has an even better film within him and will certainly continue to produce quality.

(POSTSCRIPT: This film was latter recut by Jeremy Benson, shortened, tightened up and printed in Black and White. That version finally got a belated theatrical showing in Memphis.)

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