Magazine article Screen International

Things People Do

Magazine article Screen International

Things People Do

Article excerpt

Dir: Saar Klein. US. 2014. 110mins

The end credits on film editor Saar Klein's directorial debut pay "special thanks" to his mentor Terrence Malick but the tribute isn't really necessary; Klein's debt is writ large onscreen throughout Things People Do, a seductively flawed tale of the middle-class American dream gone adrift in the desert.

Klein shows a deft hand in several memorable dramatic scenes.

The film's finely calibrated rhythms, impressionistic visuals and repeated motifs pray an attractive hymn to the man Klein worked with on The Thin Red Line and Tree Of Life and the result is an intriguing, occasionally haunting work of some power where the ethereal visuals ultimately threaten to overpower a more grounded narrative.

Israeli-born, German-national Klein sits his film on the arid edges of the New Mexico desert where his isolated characters maintain a tenuous grip on their lives. There, in the quasi wilderness, he switches between the oblique visual style of his mentor and the more linear pursuits of a morality play, but the two components don't always gel. When it works, Things People Do forces the viewer directly and uncomfortably into its lead character's dilemma, but the film's drifting, shifting tone is forced down narrative corridors which it ultimately finds uncomfortable.

Much rides on the shoulders of Wes Bentley as nice guy Bill Scanlin, a debt-ridden insurance adjustor and father-of-two who, we learn, has been let go from his job although he keeps up the day-to-day pretence in front of his family. A key motif in the film is a swimming pool Bill has installed in this drought zone for which he borrowed $40,000; its a stunning, repetitive visual, emblematic of Bill's poor decision-making.

Bill is a straight-up guy, too-nice for the dog-eat-dog world he's trying to live in (in fact, he seems to identify with a stray dog in the desert). With a complicated family background - his father, a cop on the take, committed suicide while his rich father-in-law considers him inferior - Bill places great emphasis on honesty. He wants to be a stand-up man, but is being tested to the point of no return in a society where there is no quarter given to those who stumble.

A chance meeting with a police detective in a bowling alley gives Bill a friendship that is a little more shaded. Frank (Jason Isaacs) says "I don't make judgments,", which is helpful, because a suicidal Bill is about to make a series of very bad choices, starting with an accidental hold-up in a show home, and escalating to armed robbery. …

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