The latest entrant into the L.A. crime-noir genre is Big Mistake from director Michael Perez. The film’s down-on-his-luck protagonist is Nick Alice (Samson Snell), a U.S. veteran from Afghanistan, who’s new on the job as a bounty hunter for the owner of a bail bonds company, Cora (Alicia Lueras Maldonado).
The problem with Nick is he’s not a good bounty hunter. He’s not good because he has a heart and that doesn’t sit well with the I-don’t-give-a-fuck Cora. Nick let one bounty get away because he’s the sole caretaker of his mother and she’d be lost without her son. A sucker for a sob story, Nick just didn’t have the heart to bring him in.
Cora is losing her patience as it is her money on the line and she tears Nick a new one. But you know, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug.” Next on Nick’s agenda is Madison Campbell (Sylvia Adelina Padilla). Upon seeing her mugshot, Nick is immediately drawn to Madison’s sad, yet angry eyes. I sense trouble. He needs to bring her into custody for skipping on a drunk driving arrest.
“Upon seeing her mugshot, Nick is immediately drawn to Madison’s sad, yet angry eyes…”
Nick’s search starts with her gangster father Raymond (Nick A. Meyers), who gave up on protecting her from her party girl lifestyle choices. He leads Nick to a nightclub in the city. Immediately, Nick locates Madison and slowly makes his move and by “move” I mean, rescue her from some assailant in the back alley, buy her a drink, chat about life, and spend the night together. Nick’s true feelings are on full display during a reading at his creative writing class the next day.
Finding that deep connection with Madison leads to trouble. She tells Nick that she wants to make her father pay for the black eye he gave her. She tells Nick that her father is about to be paid a lot of money for the transfer of an illegal shipment. Nick reluctantly agrees to rob the buyer and use the cash to run away with Madison. But you know being free and being happy is never that easy and the plan is not as straightforward as it seems.
Big Mistake decidedly falls into the film-noir category. Our sympathetic hero, Nick, never catches a break, and everything gets worse before it gets bad. The only person he can trust is his creative writing instructor, and all he gets from him is honest feedback about his writing.
Let’s start with the story. Overall, it’s a pretty decent one. The actual illegal shipment itself is a surprise and has ramifications affecting everyone involved. Without spoiling, there’s also a story shift that takes place at the film’s midpoint, that is interesting. And there are deadly consequences for the choices characters make in the end. Suffice it to say, screenwriter Devin O’Leary is a fan of noir.
“…there are deadly consequences for the choices characters make in the end. Suffice it to say, screenwriter Devin O’Leary is a fan of noir.”
That said, there are two significant problems with Big Mistake. The first is the visual tone of the film. Noir is a dark, brooding genre. I assume the film is shot in Los Angeles. About half of the film takes during the day, and the tone and lighting are bright. For noir, it’s best to shoot during the “magic hour” around sunset. Granted this is during the less dramatic moments of the film, but bright lights don’t match the overall tone of the story. What helps is the classic trumpet-solo jazz soundtrack you associate with film-noir and that the essential story elements are shot at night. I’ll admit this criticism is a little nitpicky on style.
The other problem is the acting. There’s a particular acting style associated with film noir. Dialogue is slow, measured, and deeply personal to the speaker. There’s also a rhythm to noir that is missing. For the most part, actors are reciting lines of dialogue as opposed to speaking them with authenticity. What the actors needed was extensive rehearsal time before shooting began. The best performance though comes from Big Mistake’s femme fatale Sylvia Adelina Padilla as Madison Campbell. She seemed to understand her character the best, and it showed in her acting. She’s also one of the producers, so I assume she had a significant amount of time developing her character.
Big Mistake falls just a little short of a recommendation. It had a decent story, but its acting let it down. Although, if you’re a fan of anything film-noir (akin to fans of B-movie horror—I’m sure this is a niche somewhere) and have some time, you might actually want to give Big Mistake a little love.
Big Mistake (2019) Directed by Michael Perez. Writer Devin O’Leary. Starring Samson Snell, Sylvia Adelina Padilla, Mark Vasconcellos, Alicia Lueras Maldonado.
5 out of 10 stars