I suppose it's not likely a coincidence that the lead character in Dead Bullet, the latest film from writer/director Erik Reese, is named Bill Holden.
I'll give you a moment to think about it.
While it's not likely that John T. Woods will find himself an Academy Award winner for his portrayal of Holden here, he does a terrific job creating a layered, surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of a man whose already downwardly spiraling life practically turns into a cycle one day after he loses his last bit of cash in a Vegas casino and on his way out stumbles across an armed robbery in process. One dead robber later, Holden finds himself in possession of thousands of dollars in cash and chips and, maybe if he's lucky, a way out of debt and a way to get back on track financially.
Of course, Dead Bullet is a crime thriller and crime ain't never really that easy.
He enlists the help of his girlfriend's brother, Roy (Peter Mendoza), once a deal is found to cash in the chips. But, as one might expect, nothing goes as planned as Harvey (Jose Rosete) and Shane (Cuete Yeska) aren't exactly the sharing kind and don't seem to mind taking what's not theirs.
A good majority of Dead Bullet is spent in a slow sizzle, a mental and physical duel of sorts between desperate people doing desperate things where everyone has something to lose and winning's always going to have a price.
Dead Bullet is a beautiful film to behold, Joshua Nitschke's lensing practically a character unto itself with Nitschke's stellar capturing of the Nevada desert and his simultaneous ability to beautifully follow the interactions of each character. The camera works in nearly perfect collaboration with Reese's patiently paced dialogue.
Rosete and Yeska make for captivating baddies, two guys who are far beyond the usual one-noters we typically get in this kind of film. While there's never much question their angle, the two are a lot more fully human than we're used to getting and it's captivating watching their stories unfold. We're simultaneously drawn to them and repulsed by them - part of that is due to Reese's script, but a huge part of it comes from mighty fine performances from Rosete and Yeska.
The film's original music from Zach Letts is top notch, while Reese also weaves into the fabric of the film a variety of tunes ranging from classic country to contemporary hip hop. To his credit, the music never dominates the story but is particularly effective in helping it move along.
Dead Bullet is the latest film to come out of the Sabi Company, a production outfit started in 2005 by Kevin K. Shah and Zak Forsman that has built a reputation for beautiful lensing and celebrating unique artistic voices and visions. While Dead Bullet may be about the closest they've come to a "formula" motion picture, one must give kudos to Reese for taking that formula and bringing it beautifully and compellingly to life. Dead Bullet may not say anything we don't expect it to say, but what it says it does so with both style and substance. In some ways, the film brings to mind this summer's hit indie Hell or High Water, a similarly minded film that realized bad guys aren't all bad and good guys aren't all good. There's an awful lot of gray and it's in that gray that we get some really amazing stories.
Continuing on its indie festival circuit, Dead Bullet should have no problem continuing to find outlets for its compelling story and gifted ensemble cast. For more information on the film, visit the Sabi website linked to in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic