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Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: MAN FROM RENO is a Culturally Nuanced and Intriguing Contribution to Neo-Noir

It's just five days until the Independent Spirit Awards, which should be plenty of time for you to watch the best Coen Brothers movie in a while...that wasn't directed or at all related to Joel and Ethan Coen. I'm talking about MAN FROM RENO, the neo-noir nominated for the John Cassavetes Award that is filled with murder, mystery and..turtles stuck in a toilet tank.

Directed and co-written by Dave Boyle, MAN FROM RENO is one of those thrillers that keeps you on its toes as it progresses, though its complexity never seems scrambled. Boyle is clearly a filmmaker with an affinity toward captivating fiction and alluring facades, centering this narrative around a well-known Japanese mystery author named Aki Akahori (Ayako Fujitani) who, on the heels of releasing her own potboiler, gets entangled in a real-life one. While trying to escape the media blitz and pretentious remarks from her fellow scholars, she heads to a San Francisco hotel for some peace and anonymity. But instead she meets a beguiling gentleman from Reno, Nevada, by the name of Akira (Kazuki Kitamura), a lover she takes on and soon learns he's a wanted man. In her hotel room he leaves behind his suitcase, two dangerous men, and the aforementioned turtles all without a trace. His disappearance brings both the villains and law enforcement who come after Aki with questions she's unable to answer. 

Meanwhile, San Francisco Sheriff Paul Del Moral (Pepe Serna) is busy trying to unravel his own case involving a man he accidentally hits with his car who also soon vanishes.

So naturally the question becomes: Who is this man from Reno and how are these two stories connected? Throughout the film, Boyle intriguingly drops clues that may be too random to interpret at the moments they are placed, but will undoubtedly leave asterisks in your mind as you watch (so you may want to take notes). What is perhaps most surprising, however, is that Boyle smartly captures cultural nuances in the dialogue between the Japanese and American settings, as well as among the Latino-American Sherriff and his detective daughter (something that often goes lost on other more seasoned American directors). In fact, it reminded me of the underrated and now canceled FX series, The Bridge, in that respect.

I'm always happy to see actors of color in film, but even more so I am happy to see them in good films. The main cast of MAN FROM RENO is almost entirely unfamiliar to me (Kill Bill's Kitamura aside) yet they prove that it doesn't take well-known Hollywood stars to enhance quality storytelling. This is definitely worth the watch.

MAN FROM RENO opens in New York City and Los Angeles on March 27th. Watch the trailer here.

Rating: B+ (***1/2 out of *****)


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