Mary (Jacqueline Leonard) returns home only to interrupt a burglary. The burglar in question, Jerry (Joseph Gilgun), is seemingly an intellectual type, extremely talkative as he searches for the big payday he thinks might be hidden somewhere in the house. The two find common ground in the oddest of places, however, as conversation zeroes in on the choices people make, and living with the consequences of those choices and actions.
Alastair Gourlay’s Tennis is a clever character study and a philosophical look at life’s choices, with some class warfare and a bit of Nature vs. Nurture thrown in for good measure. The title fits in the way the conversation goes back and forth, but it is somewhat misleading in that this isn’t a case of two people attempting to win points over each other or their arguments. There’s no competition here, just sometimes surprising empathy.
Not surprisingly, the film is made or broken by the performances of Leonard and Gilgun, and they both more than hold their own. Leonard’s Mary comes across as strong and quick-thinking, even though she rarely has the upper hand. You never for a second doubt, however, that all pleasant conversation aside, if she has a true opportunity to escape, she’ll take it.
At the same time, Gilgun’s Jerry straddles that line of criminal and intellectual. He’s more than up for conversation too, but you know he’s capable of being truly threatening, if he’s pushed into that corner. For the most part, though, he knows his captive isn’t going anywhere, so why not relax and make the best of a horrible situation (that he caused).
Visually, the film looks really good, and the composition stays interesting, even though it is mostly just a back-and-forth conversation. Likewise the cutting and pacing works to fit the tale. I usually find twenty minute short films (or longer) to be pushing the definition of “short,” but I’ve also felt that, when you find the right timing for a film, it’ll be what it’ll be. I think they hit their sweet spot here.
Overall, Tennis is a strong drama, buoyed up by the strength of the leads’ performances. The narrative isn’t terribly twist-riddled or surprising, but it doesn’t have to be if the story can be delivered with such power, as it is here.
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