Ben Solenberger’s second feature (following Amends to my Life, 2007) uses the miserable life of a small-town gangster (Richard C. Bennett does a commendable job in bringing Bill Cacchiotti to the screen) to probe father-son relationships. It’s Bill’s retirement party. The relatively small affair takes place in a secluded part of the Vermont woods. The guest list includes Bill’s right-hand-man, Gary (Ted Taylor is quietly efficient whether settling disputes with a baseball bat or revolver), and his only child, Eddie (learning more than he ever imagined is David Buckler who needs to widen his emotional range to add credibility to this transformation from innocent bystander to heartless thug).
With the two most important people in his life beside him, Bill’s life-long memories fill in the back-story from his modest beginnings as a legitimate businessman (lighting and electrical firm begun in 1972) to his recruitment into the inner racketeering circle of Hartsberry’s finest citizens. The local police are the paid-off supporters of these “middle men” and feature a parallel father (Morgan Skylark, played with appropriate gruffness by Bell Heavner) and son (Luke Callas also needs to bring a further layer of darkness to his character’s role as a savvy cop with more ethics than the rest of the cast combined).
A slimy Senator tries to hit Bill up for a campaign infusion, threatening to expose him as a common criminal if he doesn’t cough up the cash pronto. This is the first major crisis that the scotch-loving crook and Gary have faced together. Their double-barrel solution ends a political career and provides the first inhabitant of Bill’s garden of the dead. But the first-time killer will forever struggle with his deadly action: it was warranted in the circumstances but must be kept from his loving family. Wife Marie (Kendra North makes the most of the slight part) first attributes her husband’s moodiness and excessive drinking to an affair. After treating his beloved and heir like crap (Christmas and “O Holy Night” followed by a cruel display of eagerly awaited fireworks), Marie opts to leave. Shortly afterward she vanishes forever in a traffic accident. “So I has to raise the boy,” confides the narrator to Jason Baustin’s shot-smart camera (much of the film is rendered as a confessional to the audience).
The third father-son duo makes a brief appearance then untimely end during Bill and Eddie’s fishing trip that was only a mask for a bit of overdo revenge. (Years after the fact, Bill has decided to settle the score with his “friend” who’d been diddling Marie before the separation papers had been finalized.) When the just-reconciled deer hunters stumble on the murder, Bill has no option but to dispatch the luckless men. His incredulous son—arriving on the scene after hearing the ruckus—morphs from father hater to co-murderer faster than you can say “jail time.” “Death is never easy on anyone,” offers the crack shot to his trembling son.
With so much jumping about in Solenberger’s script, it can be difficult to dig deeper than the narrative’s surface. Billie Spencer’s original score only helps marginally (the budget has to find a way out of midi bland; the closing credits—with a real acoustic guitar—feel like a breath of fresh air only to be polluted by Meter’s pitch-challenged voice)—stronger performances from the young men and more show less tell in the physical/emotional reactions to the growing knowledge that “my dad kills people and I am beginning to walk in his shoes” are needed to make his film a knockout rather than a relatively harmless punch.
We await the third full-length script (Cowboy Killer) with interest. JWR