Saturday 23 March 2013
Writer: Russ Diaper
Producer: Russ Diaper, David Diaper, Scott Livingstone
Cast: Russ Diaper, Paul Kelleher, Kim Sønderholm
Year of release: 2008
Reviewed from: screener
Look, there’s no nice way to say this so let’s get it up front, let’s do it fast and straightaway, like ripping off a plaster. Deadly Pursuit is an almost literally painful movie to sit through. It is agonisingly long, devoid of interest, intrigue or excitement, utterly humourless and what minimal entertainment value it presents comes purely from its brazen, totally unsuccessful determination to ignore its non-existent budget.
Basically, the only time I wasn’t bored stiff was the occasional laugh which I got from misjudged attempts to convince the audience that this is set in Los Angeles despite the rather obvious fact that it was filmed in and around Southampton. In fact, it took me a while to be sure that this was indeed an attempt to make an American cop action-drama, not just because the US stock-footage title sequence suddenly gives way to British suburbia but also because not one member of the cast can do a convincing American accent and several of them don’t even try.
Eventually the cumulative uses of ‘goddam’ and ‘motherfuckers’ and occasional references to New York clued me in that I was indeed expected to accept that these British actors running around Hampshire were portraying US cops running around some major American city, which subsequently proved to be not New York but LA.
I have been to LA several times. I have also been to Southampton several times. Too more disparate conurbations it is difficult to imagine. Even if no-one involved in this film has ever been to LA, surely they’ve seen it in big budget films and on TV and realised that it’s not full of semi-detached houses. I mean, come on, if you want to try and suggest to your audience that the story takes place in America, don’t make your first shot someone climbing out of a right-hand drive car. Even the one location which might have passed muster, a bar dressed up like a classic American diner, fails to achieve this goal because it opens with a shot that rather obviously displays the word ‘Strongbow’. Good grief.
Look, if you’re going to use a boxing club changing room as a ‘police chief’s office’ set, try to aim your camera at the desk you’ve dragged in there and avoid constantly showing the rows of pegs on the walls in the background. At least take the bloody boxing gloves down from them! Surely it’s obvious that you can’t just pick a room and say ‘this is the office of a senior LAPD officer’. Stick some ‘wanted’ posters on the wall. Find a couple of pictures of LA and frame them. Maybe just put a stars-and-stripes flag in the corner. Give us some reason to suspend our disbelief otherwise we’re just going to devote our entire viewing time to wondering why a senior Los Angeles police officer has an office in what is obviously a gym changing room. In Southampton.
And then there’s the costumes, or lack thereof. Which is not to say that the cast are naked but this is one of those movies where people just wear their own clothes. There’s not a hint of a police uniform anywhere, there’s hardly even any baseball caps. No-one looks American.
The plot is some sort of convoluted, impenetrable nonsense about bent narcotics officers. Writer/director/producer/editor Russ Diaper stars as Michael Denison who is a bent cop but somehow it’s okay and future Eschatrilogy director Damian Morter (who gets a ‘co-story’ credit) is his colleague Nick Lane who is also a bent cop but for some reason that’s less okay. Quite what the difference is, other than one being nominally the hero, escaped me. We are constantly told that they are ‘good cops’ or ‘the best’ but there’s no evidence of this. The dialogue is an endless stream of clichés and leaden-but-incomprehensible exposition.
The cast isn’t composed entirely of Diaper’s non-actor mates. Paul Kelleher (The Demon Within) plays the police chief with the unlikely, undecorated office and spends most of his time on the phone (including one jaw-dropping conversation with Denison where it is obvious that Russ Diaper has forgotten his phone and is actually talking into his hand!). Danish actor/director Kim Sønderholm (Craig) turns up as an FBI agent who is also working for the Internal Affairs Department.
Exacerbating the tuppeny-ha’penny production values - or possibly distracting from them - is the camera-work which is abominable. While this certainly isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen, I think it genuinely does set a new British and Commonwealth record for bad photography. Everything is overlit or underlit. Shots pan across open windows causing blooms of white and everyone on-screen to disappear into silhouette. When you can actually see the actors, they’re... well, let’s put it this way: most people’s skin and hair is not naturally green.
Sodium lighting gives a green-ish hue to the cast, except in some shots where they appear purple. Everyone looks like a cabbage or a beetroot, sometimes in the same scene. It’s like watching a feature-length episode of The Munch Bunch. A clue to this lies in the nine credited ‘cinematographers’ which suggests that the camera was merely held by whoever wasn’t actually in any particular scene. Actually, you know that’s pretty disingenuous to call these camera operators ‘cinematographers’; cinematography is an art-form like any other, requiring both skill and talent. It’s not just pointing a camera at some actors and hoping for the best.
Ironically the sound, the one area where ultra-low budget pictures like this usually fall down, is okay. The dialogue is clear and Diaper’s music (some of which is credited to ‘the Pumpkin Philharmonic’ and some to ‘Porno Patrol’, although I think both of those are really Russ) is both appropriate and well-mixed. There is however, it must be said, too much of it. Several sequences of people wandering around moodily to plinky-plonky soundtracks go on far too long.
In fact the whole film is excruciatingly extended beyond its natural running time. It’s an hour and fifty minutes and I actually found myself , towards the end, hoping that there would be a Charles Band-style ten-minute credit sequence, but no such luck. The rules are very simple: low-budget indies should be between 75 and 82 minutes long. I am prepared to give you an hour and a quarter of my life and I am prepared to add on seven minutes for good behaviour. But don’t expect me to watch something like this for nearly two hours. Please.
Is there anything I’ve missed out? Well, the computer-added gun-flashes are at least more realistic than they were in A Home for the Bullets, the last thing I watched which had this sort of let’s-do-it-anyway aesthetic. And while Deadly Pursuit is completely serious, lacking any sense of its own ridiculousness, at least it doesn’t have the smugly grinning unfunny pseudo-silliness of Brian Sibley’s film. Also, there’s a curious subplot about Denison being assigned a female partner (“I work alone,” he clichés to his boss) who then barely appears apart from one scene which begins with a topless back-shot and ends with Denison handcuffing her to a banister so he can work alone and she won’t get hurt. After that, she’s never heard from again, leaving viewers wondering at the end what happened to her as Denison seems entirely unconcerned.
There’s a fair amount of action in Deadly Pursuit, some of which is fatal and some of which involves running around and chasing so you can’t fault it on the title. This is one of those two-word phrases that, twenty years ago, would have had a VHS sleeve showing a close-up of a bloke with a gun and a full-length shot of a woman in black underwear.
But let’s be honest here: this is unwatchable for anyone who isn’t (a) directly involved with Deadly Pursuit, (b) a close, personal friend of Russ Diaper, (c) an extremely tolerant film journo, prepared to give every film a fair crack of the whip no matter how much his fast-forward finger might be itching, or (d) some sort of weird completist determined to see every British action film ever made (or every film ever shot in Southampton).
Deadly Pursuit is, I fear, a perfect example of what has gone slightly wrong with independent film-making, which is that it has become almost like punk music. Just as with punk, anyone could become a ‘musician’, now anyone can become a ‘film-maker’; and just as the great punk records were swamped at the time by a vast mass of unlistenable rubbish, so great indie films are getting harder to spot among the vast mass of unwatchable stuff being churned out by enthusiastic amateurs. The problem is that basic tools are now accessible to anyone, any time not just to make films - people have always shot amateur tosh like this - but to distribute it. There’s the rub. A debut feature like this is not made to be watched, it should just be a way for young Mr Diaper to hone his craft until he eventually makes a film that he can be proud to show to people.
Consider: if you’re an aspiring novelist, you can expect to write three or four novels before you get one published and nobody will see them except tolerant family members and a few busy agents. A comic book artist will do a great deal of personal doodling, drawing page after page for their own pleasure long before anyone actually sees their work in print. Singers and musicians practice and rehearse in private until they feel they’re good enough to go into a studio or perform on stage. But the ready availability of film-making equipment and the free-and-easy delivery models which now exist mean that people like Russ Diaper are unleashing their first films on the public when really this should be the sort of thing that is kept hidden away, mentioned in interviews and eventually included, in heavily cut-down form, on the special edition DVD of one of Russ’ proper films.
I know I’m being harsh here. Russ is a young man who has managed to write, direct, produce, edit, score and star in a feature-length narrative. That’s an achievement and I commend him for that. But this film is so ludicrously over-ambitious, is so blithely unaware of its own shortcomings, misses its goals by so much (not too mention cutting so many corners and lasting so, so long) that it really should have been consigned to Russ’ shelf while he works on his next film, not promoted on MySpace and listed on the IMDB. This is amateur hour, not a real film. And it’s far from alone, don’t get me wrong. MySpace is packed with people promoting similarly produced movies and occasionally they send them to me and when they do I’ll be fair and honest about them as I am with everything that I review here.
I can’t recommend Deadly Pursuit to anyone. Even if you don’t mind the ghastly green and purple appearance of every actor, there’s nothing here to enjoy or admire, either technically or artistically. It scrapes a plus for the sound-mixing but really, that’s all I can give it. God bless Russ for making it. God bless his cast, his crew and his small army of ‘cinematographers’ for helping him. But don’t kid yourselves, folks. Deadly Pursuit is a rehearsal, nothing more.
Which brings us to Spirits of the Fall.
MJS rating: D+
review originally posted 24th October 2008