Killian (Keith Neagle), after 4 years in jail, gets released early. The timing is unfortunate, however, as his girlfriend, Mary (Jae Jarvis), while happy to see him out and home, is heading out to Chicago for a six month modeling gig. They get one evening together, and then she’s gone.
Months later and Killian is making due while he waits for word from Mary that she’ll either be coming home or they’ll be reunited elsewhere. One night he goes out to a bar and meets up with Destiny (Sasha Grishkov), a prostitute with a fondness for drugs. They strike up a quick friendship and share the evening, and drugs, with each other. The next morning Killian wakes up to find Destiny dead. Panicked, he ditches the body and takes off for Chicago to meet up with Mary.
On the way, Killian meets Faith (also played by Sasha Grishkov) at a gas station, where she is desperate for a ride. Faith looks somewhat like Destiny, but Killian marks it up as coincidence and enjoys the company of his new travel companion. Everything is connected somehow – Destiny, Faith, Mary, Chicago – but the answers always seem to be one step beyond Killian’s grasp.
Much of James Choi’s feature film Faith in Destiny plays out like a road trip drama, with a bit of noir thrown in and then a third act twist that changes up the entire context of the film. I don’t intend to give away the revelations or reveals in that act, but only mention because the tonal and narrative shift suddenly makes the film a very different experience, for better and worse. For better, because it finally offers up some answers. For worse, because the story didn’t need to go that far in the direction it goes for it to still be compelling.
Visually, the film maintains strong composition throughout, though the image appears to have been modified in some way. There’s often a faded look to shots, like the film was tweaked in post for a lower contrast. The result is a vagueness to the film’s depth, with the image flattening, but it works when you consider the moral grey areas the narrative dances in and out are therefore being represented by the image in a more literal sense.
And since we’re with them the majority of the time, it’s important to note the performances given by Neagle and Grishkov. Neagle does a quality job of giving us a Killian who, despite his best efforts to turn his life around, can’t help but screw himself over whenever an opportunity presents itself. His initial mistakes are bad enough, but he’s often making them worse (for example, probably shouldn’t have bought the DMT from the guy at the motel).
Grishkov, meanwhile, manages to deliver two very different characters in Faith and Destiny, making sure that the changes in look are not the only part that makes them different. She brings a strength to both roles, and paradoxically a vulnerability too. Overall, her performances excel even in their more subtle moments.
My main criticism, however, goes back to the narrative, and the way it decides to wrap up all its questions, coincidences and ambiguity. On the one hand, it’s certainly an ambitious choice to go where it goes. On the other, as I mentioned earlier, it becomes such a different experience that it becomes too jarring to fit in with everything that came before it. Things get almost fantastical in their explanations, and it betrays the simplicity and realism of everything that came before it. Yes, it is a bold choice, but, for me, it didn’t feel like the right one.
Overall, though, Faith in Destiny succeeds in the performances it contains, and the freedom it allows the actors to do their best work. The result is often simple and subtle, but nonetheless effective. Worth checking it out for Grishkov’s chameleon-like turn alone.
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