Steven is an unemployed womanizer who's recently separated from his wife (due in large part to his wandering willy) and spends most of his time wandering the streets smoking and talking himself in narcissistic loops. He also fancies himself a writer, albeit one that doesn't write all that often. One day he stumbles upon a crayon drawn missing persons sign with the words "HLEPP ME" and a phone number hastily scribbled at its base. After a discussion with his only friend Rene (presumably because she's the only one who'll put up with his nonsense), he decides to make "the" call. This choice kicks off the bulk of A PUBLIC RANSOM'S narrative as it leads him to the home of a stranger named Bryant. The man (who also claims to be a writer of some kind or another) insists that he has actually kidnapped a little girl and plans to kill her if Steven doesn't come up with $2,000.00 in (the ridiculous time frame of) two weeks time. This deadline gives Steven, Bryant, and the viewer plenty of time for secrets to be revealed, lots of creepy stalking to occur, and a rather meta "fictional" story about the men's trials and tribulations regarding said kidnapping and ransom to be written. It culminates not only in true selves being revealed, but with genuine (and rather ambiguous) tragedy befalling the supposed kidnap victim.
Boasting a cast of three first time "actors" and a filmmaker also on his virgin cinematic expedition, you'd understand if RANSOM sucked. However, to the contrary, it's actually quite engaging. D'Stairs is a seriously prolific author in his own right, and it shows. Filmed in black and white (actually closer to a slightly grizzled and popped sepia), RANSOM hearkens back to the grit, grime, and innocent abandon of early Bresson and Jarmusch. If not for the long walks along darkened streets and a few interior locations, D'Stairs film unfolds in similar fashion to something written initially for the stage. Long uncut monologues and verbal character confrontations may grate, but rest assured that they do all lead (and contribute) to the heart of the core story being told. The cast is all solid (Bryant and Rene are the wonderfully realized yin and yang) with Edwards' Steven reading like some kind of bastardized hybrid of "Weird Al" Yankovic, Woody Allen, and Quentin Tarantino. He's a little too much to digest, overtly quirky, and spews ridiculous tongue tying (I'm way too cool for school) dialogue throughout. Oddly, when the payoff is revealed and his true self emerges, you dislike him even more because of just how profoundly he annoyed the shit out of you before. All these parts congeal into a whole that is not without its hiccups, but ultimately finishes strong and plays throughout as a deliberately paced (and rather engaging) zero budget, neo-noir, psychologically thrilling, um, thriller. [7/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 24, 2014
Carlyle Edwards, Helen Bonaparte, Goodloe Byron