Man from Reno (2014)
Editor’s Note: Man from Reno is currently playing in limited release.
When a film opens on a dark, windy, foggy road with a car accident that leaves a small-town sheriff befuddled and another man lying, bloodied, bruised, but not quite dead on that same road, it’s usually a tipoff that we, as savvy moviegoers, have firmly entered into neo-noir territory. That turns out to be a relatively good guess in indie writer-director Dave Boyle’s fifth film, a cross-cultural neo-noir – a marked departure from Boyle’s previous output (comedies or comedy-dramas) – that doesn’t so much subvert genre conventions as play mix-and-match with conventions drawn from other, well known, and in some cases, much loved or respected, noirs and neo-noirs directed by master filmmakers (e.g., Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawkes, the Coen Brothers), to decidedly mixed, ultimately unsatisfying results. Sometimes, it seems, filmmakers can be too clever by half, depriving themselves and audiences of an all-around satisfying, moviegoing experience.
Man from Reno offers more than its fair share of slow-burn narrative and visual pleasures…
For most of its nearly two-hour runtime, however, Man from Reno offers more than its fair share of slow-burn narrative and visual pleasures, the former thanks to a keenly drawn character, Aki Akahori (Ayako Fujitani), a successful Japanese mystery writer, oddly dubbed “the J.D. Salinger of Japan” in one news report, who unceremoniously flees her latest book tour for an unplanned sabbatical in San Francisco, and the latter thanks to Boyle’s collaboration with cinematographer Rich Wong and their minimalist filmmaking style. Socializing with old college friends one moment – trying out her not quite Sherlockian sleuthing skills on one obnoxious guest – and contemplating suicide by razor the next. Practically stepping into a cliché, she meets the proverbial tall, handsome, mysterious stranger, Akira (Kazuki Kitamura), at a hotel bar. Initially, she’s invigorated by the unexpected, but no less welcome, fling with Akira, but when he mysteriously disappears, leaving only a suitcase behind, she goes into full-on detective mode.
Aki’s storyline eventually converges with Paul Del Moral (Pepe Serna), the sheriff of the fictional San Marcos’ police department, involved in the opening scene’s car-on-pedestrian accident. By turns taciturn, world-weary, and borderline ready for retirement, Del Moral can’t let a good mystery go unsolved, especially when the man he hit and later saved disappears from the hospital and a corpse appears in a nearby pond. The trail leads Del Moral and his deputy/daughter, Teresa (Elisha Skorman), to a wealthy, ailing multi-millionaire (shades of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep), his henchmen, and eventually San Francisco and Aki. Man from Reno turns on Aki and Del Moral’s team-up and what they discover about Akira and the missing man, but at most, it’s a surface-deep mystery, intentionally convoluted, but just as easily decipherable.
Boyle and his screenwriter partners, Joel Clark and Michael Lerman, stumble…
Boyle and his screenwriter partners, Joel Clark and Michael Lerman, stumble, some would argue irreversibly, some would argue temporarily, during Man from Reno’s final half hour, piling up reversals, deceptions, and betrayals with little respect for logic or coherence, essentially moving Man from Reno into noir or neo-noir territory inhabited by the callous, cruel, sociopathic characters from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, but without the same narrative dexterity, layered character development, or genre subversions typical of both novels and their justly celebrated cinematic adaptations. It’s all the more regretful because Boyle wastes Fujitani’s refreshingly nimble, nuanced performance as the newly reinvigorated mystery novelist turned semi-competent detective.
Man from Reno doesn’t so much subvert genre conventions as play mix-and-match with conventions drawn from other, well known, and in some cases, much loved or respected, noirs and neo-noirs to decidedly mixed, ultimately unsatisfying results.