Friday, October 22, 2004

Freeze Frame

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 October 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Fantastic Film Festival)

Who knew Lee Evans had this in him?

Evans has always been, to me, much more a comedian than an actor. Certainly, he has made enough movies where he's not playing Lee Evans as such, and I'm not sure just how much of his performance stuff has even made it to this side of the Atlantic, but still, he's kind of like Robin Williams, Jim Carrey or Denis Leary in that until he gets that good dramatic role, the audience just sees him as a comedian doing a bit. Thankfully, he gets that role in Freeze Frame.

In it, Evans plays Sean Veil, who ten years ago was accused of a grisly triple murder but whose case never when to trial due to lack of evidence. That didn't stop investigating detective Emeric (Sean McGinley) and profiler Saul Seger (Ian McNiece) from announcing that monsters like Veil generally don't stop at one crime and they'd be watching out for him. So, to prevent being arrested and railroaded for a crime he didn't commit, Veil has spent the past ten years obsessively videotaping himself so that he can provide an alibi for any time the police might request. This does not, however, stop the dying Emeric from knocking down his for a crime that took place a mere five years ago.

Evans (probably best known in the US as Nathan Lane's brother in Mouse Hunt) has always been a funny-looking guy, and here that's more funny-strange than funny-amusing: The shaved head doesn't work on short guys with big ears, but the idea is to stick out and be memorable. It does, however, make him look kind of creepy, enough to make one wonder if he doth protest too loudly, or whether a few years of paranoid monomania has at last made him capable of such a crime. The other actors are just as well-suited to their roles, with McNiece embodying a sort of bloated arrogance, McGinley carrying around his own angry obsession, and Rachael Stirling as a reporter for a true-crime TV show who may be Veil's only ally.

Writer/director John Simpson's script is tight, a meticulously constructed mystery that belongs in the same class as Memento. The movie was fittingly-enough shot on digital video, with varying amounts of grain signifying different vantage points. The color has been leeched out of the picture, for the most part, leading to a little bit of a noirish atmosphere and making the points where it is present eye-catching. It's occasionally a bit overdone - there doesn't seem to be a point to the Timecode-style split-screens Simpson occasionally uses - but the style is a net positive, or at least neutral.

There is a certain irony in Veil's character, that in his attempt to avoid jail, he has built himself a prison that despite not having walls is no less real. The design of his home reflects this, looking like an underground bunker with pervasive surveillance cameras, a large video control center in the middle, and a huge vault full of videotapes that can be sectioned off with drop-down bars. It's not exactly subtle - not much in this movie really is - but it gets the point across.

Freeze Frame is primarily a mystery, and it's a good one, with the dynamics between the characters bringing it up to the next level. I sincerely hope that this gets a full US release.

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