Reviews & Commentary

Beneath the Veneer of a Murder (2010)

Angel Connell
Angel Connell
Christy Scott-Cashman, Eric Schneier, Mark Grant, Jennifer McCartney, Angel Connell
Matthew Wagenknecht

This review contains spoilers.

What we have here is basically a standard film noir, only told in about 8 minutes, with the on-screen action boiled down to one scene: a man named Judd (Eric Schneier) kills a woman called Lolita (Christy Scott-Cashman).

This scene is bookended by two telephone conversations that are played over the opening and closing credits. The conversations both involve Buchanan (Mark Grant), talking first with Judd and then with his wife, Daisy (Jennifer McCartney), who had been having an affair with Lolita. Apparently, Judd is after the money Lolita scammed off Daisy, but runs into trouble in the form of Buchanan’s head of security, Bartlesby (Angel Connell). This leads to Judd killing Lolita (the only on-screen action), followed by the police gunning down Judd.

Summarized in text like that, it doesn’t sound like much of the film, but writer/director Connell does some interesting things with this material. The first thing that hit me about the film was the way especially Buchanan talks; he sounds as if he’s aware of being in a story; he speaks of the events as they unfolded as a narrative created by Bartlesby. He remarks also on how convenient it was that Judd called Buchanan, as that made it possible for Buchanan to tip off the police, leading to Judd’s death, and Buchanan and Daisy speak of their future deaths as “a narrative for another day”. In a way, the film is telling a story about telling stories — there’s a sense of the hyper-real to the film, of the characters fictionalising their own lives as they speak, for example the overly-dramatic way Daisy describes her relationship with Lolita, or Buchanan’s almost parodically fast delivery.

This theme is continued also in the way the film frustrates viewer understanding. Most obviously in how it has conversations occur over on-screen text, which is the most conspicuous example of how densely the film packs information, and how little it explains that information. The whole plot is basically summarized by Buchanan in the last phone call with his wife, but he does it a terrifically fast clip (sounding very noir), and a lot of details are hard to catch: the fact that Buchanan calls the police after talking to Judd, that there’s a safe-combination among the papers in Lolita’s purse, etc. In short. it’s a film that necessitates and expects multiple viewings. In that sense it reminds me of Shane Carruth’s Primer, except that Primer is more obviously complex: Beneath the Veneer of a Murder seems like it’s a straight-forward thriller, albeit oddly told, until you really think about it, and start to realise how deep that oddness runs. It is, in a sense, the thriller form stripped down to its barest minimum, and it uses that form to examine how film communicates. I’m not entirely sure there’s enough film left underneath the conceptual cleverness, but then again I’m not entirely sure that’s not the point.

Reviewed from a screener.

Written by Kalle on Monday April 25, 2011
Permalink - Category: Film - Tags: 2000s, film-noir

« The Nude Vampire - Female Vampire »