Nicci Brighten, Benjamin Newham, Joe Street
Paul Romero Mendez
Levon Gharibian, Benjamin Newham
"On the River" a Formulaic Action/Drama
This 3-day, zero budget narrative drama shouldn't be confused with the upcoming crime drama of the same name, a Chazz Palminteri/Fred Williamson/Vincent Pastore starring film also, strangely enough, centered around a high stakes poker game gone awry. This film, a 13-minute short is directed by Paul Romero Mendez and centers around Benjamin Newham's Memphis Hicks, whom we meet in the dark backroom of a Soho restaurant as he risks what little he has in a high stakes poker game he hopes will help him erase his past and create a new life.
It's a story we've seen before, many times, though Mendez deserves credit for creating a stylish, occasionally compelling drama in which the stakes are high and the consequences for both winning and losing may be even higher. The fellow players that Memphis finds himself competing against, including the likes of Nicci Brighten's Pamela Todd and Joe Street's Michael, don't take kindly to losing and have other ideas for Memphis and his money.
On the River is the kind of indie film you can't help but respect, with a note from Newham himself pointing out the fun fact that in order to pay for equipment rental he refurbished a grand piano. That's the kind of devotion one hopes to see in the world of microcinema, the kind of devotion that screams out "I don't care how I do it, I'm going to make this film!"
Indeed, On the River did get made.
With a voiceover narrative offering glimpses of noir and the film's overall story emphasizing heightened tension and conflicts, On the River builds its tension creatively, though not always convincingly, as the film's vocal stylings often made me feel as if I was watching Murder on the Orient Express outtakes.
On the River never quite gels into the film that it could have been, though Ben Calloway's lensing is relentlessly creative and interesting and serves the film well in amping up both the tension in the actual poker game and the interspersed fight sequences that add an electricity to the effort.
Formulaic yet fun to watch, On the River is just getting started on its festival run and should find itself right at home on the microcinema fest circuit in Europe and abroad.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic