Nicholas Null, Joe Freeman, Aurelien Gaya
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
"The Never Daunted" is Another Moving Picture From Edgar Muñiz
Murray (Nicholas Null) is increasingly unable to cope with his infertility while also feeling trapped in a monotonous and pointless job. The end result is that he becomes increasingly withdrawn from his relationship and increasingly absorbed in a late night television western that may or may not be real.
Writer/director Edgar Muñiz has never been one to shy away from challenging topics or dialogue, and The Never Daunted may very well be his most emotionally vulnerable film yet. The characters here are heartbreakingly honest, but they never cross the line into melodrama or histrionics. While I've put all of Muñiz's films into the "B" range in terms of ratings, there are few indie filmmakers whose films I more eagerly anticipate.
If you're the casual moviegoer, there's a good chance you'll consider a Muñiz film to be derivative or convoluted. You'd be wrong. A Muñiz film doesn't typically tell a truly narrative story from beginning-to-end, but instead weaves itself through the often chaotic lives of its characters.
As is true of many indie filmmakers, Muñiz has largely worked with a familiar pool of actors. With The Never Daunted, he uses some familiar faces in a different way and is rewarded greatly for it. Nicholas Null is terrific in the difficult role of Murray, managing to keep his character compelling despite the fact that he's not exactly sympathetic at various points in the film. Null is surrounded by a solid supporting cast, most notably the absolutely wonderful Celeste Marie Martinez along with Joe Freeman and Aurelien Gaya.
As seems to always be true with a Muñiz film, atmosphere is everything and The Never Daunted features atmosphere in abundance by somehow creating the western world, a truly monotonous office setting and a home dwelling that feels both intimate and unsettling. Lucas Maldonado's original music is exceptional, somehow managing to companion every direction the film travels.
The only real problem with The Never Daunted may very well have come as a result of Muñiz's growing confidence as a filmmaker and his increasingly ambitious style. This film ups the ante in terms of special effects and technical achievement, but there are minor scenes throughout the film where that ambition results in a less than smooth transition or a moment where the film's modest budget shines through more than it typically does with a Muñiz film. Each time it happened, I found myself jerked away from the emotions of the scene and the characters.
An example of this problem was a dramatic scene between Murray and his wife that is immediately followed by a fading shot that focuses on Murray. Unfortunately, the shot itself isn't particularly in focus and the overall effect of the shot feels too intentional to be effective. This scene is one of Murray's more dramatic scenes, but the slow fade that focuses on him dilutes the scene's power and left me with such a negative view of Murray that it took some time before I became absorbed in the story again.
But, it should be stressed that this could very well be an artistic choice by Muñiz with which I simply disagree. You yourself may completely embrace the way that scene and many others are approached. What you won't be able to do is ignore the power of yet another thought-provoking and emotionally resonant script from Muñiz and another terrific ensemble performance in this fine indie drama.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic