At first glance, it would appear The Plead is another “hitman gains a conscience” tale. But, writer-director-star Dallas Ryan has much — much — more to say than something as banal as violence begets violence or seeing if one can outrun the sins of their past. But the film’s noticeably sparse and low budget, which just might hamper the filmmaker’s grand ambitions.
Ray (Ryan Vania) is tied to a chair, and The Hitman (Dallas Ryan) informs him that he has been hired to do something unusual. See, as part of the assignment, whoever hired The Hitman gave him explicit instructions: give Ray one hour to plead for his life, and if his words convince The Hitman to spare his life, then Ray will get to keep living. But, with a gun in his face and confusion over why he was singled out, Ray finds it difficult at first to build his case. Can Ray sway The Hitman into letting him live, or has his fate already been sealed?
The Plead has a unique editing style, which seems odd at first. Every so often, Ray or The Hitman will say something, and instead of cutting to the other person replying, a black screen appears for a beat. Then there’s the expected response, which may or may not be a rephrasing of the question. The first few times this happens, it makes the dramatic mystery feel like it was made for TV, and these are the commercial breaks. But, just as often, those cutaway moments are filled with pictures and the like, reinforcing what the only two actors onscreen (plus a cute dog!) are discussing. Since audiences have already been accustomed to those breaks, introducing the photos is easy.
“…if his words convince The Hitman to spare his life, then Ray will get to keep living.”
And oh, what conversations they have. Ray and The Hitman discuss pop culture writ large, with a particular focus on horror movies. They talk about the numerous, absurd careers Ray has had: a semi-professional tennis player, porn star, and brilliant optics engineer. There’s a great continuing joke about how envious The Hitman becomes after learning of each odd job his target once held. But, before one thinks that Ryan only wrote some Tarantino knockoff, what with killers going on about pop culture, the nature of family, fatherhood specifically, gets raised. To say more would constitute a spoiler, but these scenes effectively pull at the heartstrings.
Of course, since The Plead is a two-actor show, it is pivotal they work well together. Happily, Ryan and Vania, who produced the production (and have worked on several other projects together), share excellent chemistry. Later in the film, their effortless back-and-forth helps sell some of the more serious story turns.
While the ending doesn’t totally work and the editing takes some getting used to, The Plead is an interesting and original tale of the value of a man’s life. The actors sell it well while the plot takes some unexpected but most welcome twists. In the end, Ryan’s ambitions are exactly what helps the film stand out from the crowd.
"…Ryan's ambitions are exactly what helps the film stand out..."