It is understandably tempting for a low-budget film director to enter the realm of noir or neo-noir filmmaking. After all, production design is often more straightforward and black-and-white filmmaking is, in most cases, more cost effective than color.
It's tempting, but it's often a mistake.
I've seen a lot of noir, both shorts and features. I've seen a lot of BAD noir. I've seen shallow treatments of noir, mimicking of noir, and noirish films that were all style but no substance.
While Jury Duty, a 19-minute noir co-written and directed by Matheus Ronn, isn't necessarily flawless short film it's an incredibly satisfying effort and a film that largely manages to commit to what it means to be noir without looking like a polished piece of contemporary cinema.
The film takes place in 1941 and centers around Iris Holliday (Nikki Tilmouth), a starlet actress attempting to make a comeback who is murdered at the beginning of the film. The subsequent investigation begins to disclose dark secrets while we, the audience, are left to try to figure out what happened and who did it.
The only thing more challenging than pulling off effective noir is pulling off an effective noir short. While it may sound like it's a simple prospect, there's a certain low-key, black-and-white quality to the lensing, think German expressionism with more structured linguistics and common themes that are typically within the framework of a hard-boiled crime drama. While many filmmakers can pull off the "look" of a noir, it's just as essential to embrace the substance and the attitude along with effectively pulling off a style of linguistics not often used in cinema these days.
Fortunately, Jury Duty does all these things.
Jury Duty is currently on its film festival circuit having already screened at L.A. Shorts Fest and Glendale International Film Festival. I'd be surprised if there aren't additional fests to come along.
Ronn has clearly communicated his vision for the film to his ensemble cast quite effectively, Nikki Tilmouth personifying what it meant to be a 30's and 40's stage actress, while other key players also shining including C.J. Baker as Spencer Finch, Chris Kohl's as Iris's husband Clarke, and the wonderful Kassie Johnston as Mollie McLaine, who was originally cast in Iris's comeback role but willingly stepped back hoping to look from the acclaimed Iris.
Max Margolin's lensing is sublime, a disciplined work of noir that obviously utilizes contemporary tech but full-on immerses in the noirish vision. It's a blast to watch. The production design by Henry Hansen and Danielle Blake deserves kudos, while Ruria Duprat's original music is a top notch complement to the film. Of course, one must also applaud the ability of Ronn and Mans Reimer to tell a short yet compelling story that fits within the hardboiled world of noir filmmaking.
For more information on Jury Duty, visit the film's Facebook page and watch for it at a festival near you.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic