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By Amy R. Handler | April 29, 2014

A man strolls through town and sees a makeshift poster of a missing child printed in crayon. Words are misspelled and the child’s image is roughly drawn. The man must decide if what he’s viewing is authentic or a hoax.

Pablo D’Stair’s compelling debut film, A Public Ransom, is seen through the eyes of Steven (Carlyle Edwards), a chain-smoking, indecisive, would be writer and cad. In the opening scene, Steven is outside pacing up and down while shouting obscenities to his estranged wife Lisa. Apparently Lisa receives a phone call from Steven’s mistress Deb and calls Steven to sort things out. Needless to say, little is resolved. As if his life isn’t complicated enough, Steven is also juggling a woman named Rene (Helen Bonaparte), a scholarly looking “friend,” whose dry sense of humor neatly matches Steven’s vulgar sophistry.

When Steven comes upon the poster that reads, “MISNNGS…HLEPPME? 4342567791,” his curiosity is piqued and he decides to call the number provided. At which point, Steven is invited to meet the person at the other end of the telephone line. Enter Bryant (Goodloe Byron), the man who will very swiftly and adroitly change the lives of all concerned.

What’s immediately evident in A Public Ransom is its gritty, predominantly low lit, taupe-toned cinematography. In fact, so many scenes involving the two principal players, Steven and Bryant, seem so poorly lit that it’s virtually impossible to see the faces of either man. It is for this reason that I spent substantial time questioning whether filmmaking inexperience or purposeful cinematography was at play here, and eventually decided upon the latter. The closer I honed in upon the characters and their unfolding story, the more I knew that I was right, since Rene, the most well-balanced of the characters, is always in well-lit focus. Still, D’Stair’s cinematic selection is artistically interpretive to say the least, and may not be for everyone.

What’s not as clear is whether all that we witness is real. Keep in mind, though, that this type of mind-play is significant in the lives of writers, and that D’Stair’s key characters live this profession. Viewers will also notice that the film runs a bit long at 100 minutes. However, in this case, I don’t consider the duration a flaw, since the film is so hypnotic.

While each character and aspect of A Public Ransom is integral to the film’s incredible plot, what should be noted are Steven’s choices, actions and inactions, when faced with the implausible. And while A Public Ransom is a mostly character driven movie, us viewers will be implicated in the story, even if against our will.

If I were you, I would pay very close attention to all the films Pablo D’Stair brings to the screen, since it’s very obvious that this unusually gifted filmmaker is here to stay.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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