Take Shadows and Lies Home June 7
Jay Anania’s Shadows and Lies (2010) is an emotionally barren landscape—lyrically desolate and bitterly inhospitable. James Franco stars as the morally bankrupt William Vincent, a man so disinterested in his own life that when a plane on which he was supposed to fly crashes into a mountain leaving unidentifiable remains he adopts a new name, purchases a counterfeit passport, and learns a new trade—film editing. He lives in a Chinatown storefront that also serves as his office, and entertains himself by picking pockets, then tossing the loot in the trash.
It is in the course of one of William’s pickpocketing forays that he comes to the attention of a man identified as “the Boss” (Josh Lucas), a nasty sort who runs his own drug and prostitution empire. The boss’s employees include Victor (Martin Donovan), the criminal version of a personal assistant (who just might have a conscience), and Ann (Julianne Nicholson), a prostitute the Boss gifts to William, but only for one night. The boss soon decides that William and Ann should not have any further contact.
In his way, William loves Ann. His rash murder of a john induces him to leave town; four years later he returns for Ann. Shadows and Lies is relentlessly dark and downbeat. Unerotic sex and joyless drug use—William participates in neither—are features of the twilight world he chooses to enter. Even the violence is more matter-of-fact than startling or disturbing.
Because the characters are emotional flatliners, we learn little about them in this passionless character study. It is like watching a security monitor—we see the action, but we can only guess at the feelings and motivations behind it. Yet with few glimpses into their psyches, we still want to know what happens with them.
A strong cast breathes life into people we would rather not know, suggesting dimensions we never see. Shadows and Lies is not conventional storytelling, and those looking for a Guy Ritchie-type action flick will be disappointed. However, those who enjoy “something different” (perhaps, “something deeper”) should be satisfied by its nuanced drama and deliberate pacing.