With drive-by shootings and the never-ending cycle of gang-related deaths and their brutal retaliation becoming more widespread in Canada’s major cities (recently, oil-mad Alberta began to catch up with Toronto’s unassailable lead), Michael D. Olmos’ depressingly realistic Splinter (used as an effective three-way metaphor for biological, street-born and work-related families) paints a sorry picture of pathetic violence and pointless revenge.
Appropriately, the opening credits (designed by Jamieson Fry) depict the cast as cardboard cut-outs, producing a near super-heroes façade for the coming bloodbath (some bits are not for the squeamish; sadly, the carnage is all too familiar whether “shot” on the streets of LA or the “Highway of Death” between Kuwait and Basra), adding a fine balance to Bridger Neilson’s spot-on cinematography (effective use is made of time-lapse photography to beautifully reinforce the passage of time between the executions and their equally pointless investigations).
It took a trio of writers (Enrique Almeida, Adrian Cruz and Olmos) to fashion the script and drive home their message of doom and despair. Unfortunately, with one notable exception, the film is populated with an over-abundance of stereotypes. The police are led by Captain Garcia (Edward James Olmos effectively broods his way through such revelations as “Nothing [is] kept on the record ‘til I say so.”). His newest addition comes via Chicago in the person of Detective Gramm (Resmine Atis does well with what she gets, but requires further back-story to solidify her swim-against-the-current demeanour). As the boozing, ruthless who-gives-a-shit (but nonetheless the self-proclaimed best detective on the force) Tom Sizemore’s portrayal of Detective Cunningham glues much of the action together, but we only discover in the late frames what’s feeding his reckless abandon and road to self-destruction. From the gangsters’ side, we meet Trigger (Hector Atreyu Ruiz) who readily metes out punishment for the flimsiest of reasons. His hot temperament is diffused by gang elder, Jesse (Emilio Rivera), although once he decides what’s best for his troops, he unleashes his thoughtful sense of justice with fearsome despatch.
It’s the three brothers that keep everything moving—whether dead, injured or just back from prison. As the tale begins, the eldest and truce maker between the Paradise Garden and Green Line gangs, Shaggy and Dreamer (Enrique Almeida) are both shot in a drive-by just as the delicate subject of gang doll Vanessa (Delilah Cotto) comes up. When the blood settles, Shaggy’s dead and gone—leaving a power struggle in Paradise—and Dreamer is suffering from the effects of Acquired Brain Injury. He’s not only lost his brother, but his memory and sense of touch. Apparent hallucinations filled with brief seconds of unbearable torture drive this survivor to the brink of madness. Here’s the character that comes closest to being fully formed, but lacks the subtle (the overt lifting of a white-hot frying pan and oblivion to the third-degree burns that will follow would benefit from a calmer counterpoint) shadings of another horrific act that is so spellbindingly depicted in Memento (cross-reference below)—another film that turns on the truly incredible workings of the mind when, never as obvious to the public as a wheelchair, the sudden rewiring of brain cells produces surprises for all—particularly the owner.
Soon, Dreamer and Detective Gramm make an uneasy alliance: both want to find Shaggy’s executioner. No spoiler’s here. See the movie to unwind the plot, but that’s just the sideshow compared to the stark reality of dirty deeds done by perpetual criminals and their “kennel keepers.” The quick cutaways to a proud rooster and a puzzled dog are deft touches of underscoring. (The over-scoring music track with its funky rap and long-line strings should make the accompanying CD a hot item.)
But the shot du jour (heard and seen daily in every corner of our deadly globe) comes from the bereft mother; her family’s vocational tradition skids to an awful conclusion and there aren’t enough “Hail Marys” in the planet to stem the tide of macho death. JWR