Kenton Bartlett’s debut feature displays all of the virtues that one associates with the work of ambitious film school graduates: top-notch visual elements, inventive sound design and music scoring, and the daring to present a work that does not follow the connect-the-dots route that dilutes today’s independent cinema. Alas, it also displays all of the vices of newly minted film students: a rickety screenplay, poorly directed performances and an emphasis on cleverness over coherence.
Central to this drama is the big, shambling deliveryman David (Mark Boone Junior). He hasn’t been the same since he suffered from a head injury in an automobile accident, and his aspiring artist girlfriend Delia (Melora Walters), who has been supportive for too long, abruptly dumps him.
David responds to his sadness by kidnapping two young people – a would-be guitarist working at an amusement part and a grocery store clerk estranged from her family – and putting them through a series of bizarre games and exercises. The couple find themselves in odd places – on top of a mountain, in the middle of a desert, in a snowbound forest – and under constant video and audio surveillance by David. Not surprisingly, the couple falls in love with each other during their weird ordeal.
Or is there an ordeal? “Missing Pieces” plays mind games with the viewer via a constant stream of flashbacks, flash-forwards and sequences that may or may not be David’s hallucinations. There is nothing wrong with nonlinear or even opaque cinematic storytelling – Jean-Luc Godard, for example, made a very successful career out of it. But “Missing Pieces” falls short because the characters at the center of the story are shallow, whiny and dull. It is hard to put any value in their predicaments – especially when logic is kicked out the window in favor of the bizarre kidnapping sequences.
It also doesn’t help that no one in the cast bothers to give anything resemblance a compelling performance – there is a lot of mumbling and pouting, as if the cast was cranky about having to say their lines. Within a half-hour of this jumble, it is easy to question the point of this production. After an hour, the film becomes an endurance test of confusing and annoying trickery.
In viewing “Missing Pieces,” it is obvious that a lot of care went into the technical aspects of the work. Jonathan Arturo’s cinematography is crisp and inventive, while Richey Rynkowsi’s wonderfully non-intrusive score is among the most mature in contemporary cinema. And special kudos goes to Curtis Churn for maintaining a sophisticated sound-editing environment.
If “Missing Pieces” falls very short of its ambitions, it clearly deserves the proverbial “A” for effort. Bartlett and his crew attempted to do something different, and that deserves to be respected. Hopefully, the filmmaker’s sophomore effort will be more satisfactory.
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