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Monday, September 9, 2013

Wendell Pierce Headlines The Quiet Independent Drama, "FOUR"

Wendell Pierce is one of those actors who, no matter how hard Hollywood may try, you can't simply put in one box. While he tackles the often more gratifying opportunities found on the small screen in hard-hitting roles like The Wire and Treme (both extremely impressive in different ways), Pierce has also tackled equally indiscriminate characters on the big screen in Night Catches Us and Ray. And he makes it look so easy.

This month Pierce is taking another trick out of his hat with his starring role in the soft-spoken independent drama, FOUR. He plays Joe, an apt name for a guy who could be anyone, someone you even might know. He's a father, a husband, a professional, a seemingly secure middle-aged man who just so happened to befriend and bed June (Emory Cohen), a young man he met while casually browsing on the Internet. Their affair, so natural yet at times first date awkward, is more of a backdrop to the larger premise of the film that is more a character study than a fluid narrative. Directed by first time feature filmmaker Joshua Sanchez, FOUR is an intimate look at four characters, including Joe and June, who are all on the brink of determining who they are.

Aja Naomi King stars as Joe's teenage daughter Abigayle, a rather shiftless teen who throughout the whole movie seems preoccupied with thoughts that have yet to stumble out of her mouth. She is persistently courted by Dexter (E.J. Bonilla), a biracial young man from the neighborhood who Abigayle noncommittally tries to swat away because of what she sees as cultural differences.When each character begins to bond in ways none of them imagined, the uncomfortable togetherness that consequentially envelopes them is the very thing they fear.

What's most impressive about FOUR is that while each scene is packed with so much tension--both emotional and sexual--the film itself is remarkably quiet. Not simply on account of its delicate internal and interpersonal dialogue, but also on account of the external circumstances in each scene. The entire film is set in the dark of night over the course of a few hours, when most everyone around else these characters is asleep or tucked away from the outside. Much of the film feels like a singular moment, like these four souls are the last people on the planet, trapped in their silent purgatory. They must figure out how to rely on themselves and each other. There's a sense of frustrated urgency about this that makes you yearn for closure within them. But, in fact, you never get it.

That's probably the only aggravating part about the movie--that it increasingly builds up to something that never actually happens. While both Dexter and Joe are the more emotional aggressors in the film, all four characters are hiding something--from either themselves or others. Just when you think by the end of the film all the tension will be released in cataclysmic form, it doesn't. It kind of just withers away, leaving us to decide how things will work out between them.

There's something really interesting about one-night setting films, when all is quiet and characters (especially those like these four) are left alone with their thoughts and feelings. It felt very solitary in every sense.

It helps that the actors make the characters that much more intriguing to watch. Pierce makes another case for why he's one of the most versatile actors around in a restraining yet equally bare-skinned performance that is still but a sliver of his potential. Cohen, who some may know from his work in The Place Beyond the Pines and on TV's Smash, is appropriately vulnerable yet drenched in repression and teenage angst. But since he shares most his scenes with the dominant Pierce, his finicky nature is often absorbed by Pierce's performance.

King and Bonilla subsequently provide the film's dialogue dance in that both their characters have undisclosed intent while struggling with their own hangups. Their conversation is timid but will likely resonate with younger viewers.

Sanchez, who adapted Christopher Shinn's play of the same title, is a rather distant filmmaker, letting the performances to do the majority of the storytelling. He brings the fragility of Shinn's story, which in turn allows the audience to focus on what is happening between the characters. Although it is yet to be determined what Sanchez's voice is, he can at least be praised for presenting a stage play to a film-going crowd.

Rating: C

FOUR is in select theaters Friday.


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