THE PERFECT WITNESS (2008)
Starring Wes Bentley, Mark Borkowski, Joanne Baron, Marina Gatell, Albert Lopez Murtra, Kenny Johnson, Beth Grant, Sarah Crocker, Sierra Richter, Sal Darigo, Thomas Dunn, Ofri Fuchs, Vanessa Gronczewski and Amy Aeschliman.
Screenplay by Mark Borkowski and Thomas C. Dunn.
Directed by Thomas C. Dunn.
Distributed by First Look Studios. 100 minutes. Rated R.
Wes Bentley started his career with serious promise in 1999’s best picture, American Beauty, but pretty much disappeared from view for most of a decade since. In 2007 he has resurfaced as the lead in two horror films. (He also had a supporting role in Nicolas Cage’s comic book adaptation of Ghost Rider.)
The first one out of the gates was P2, in which Bentley played a deranged parking lot attendant who trapped a female executive in the garage. That actually got a brief theatrical release and became a very minor hit.
This second film, on the other hand, is being quickly, cheaply slipped out straight to video. In fact, it was such an afterthought that the studio didn’t even bother to remove the movie’s original title – The Ungodly, which honestly was a more evocative name – from the closing credits. (The half-assed approach to the DVD release is also shown in the fact that I noticed several typos in the English subtitles, which rarely happens.)
I missed Bentley’s first comeback film, but on the evidence of his listless, broad performance here, I guess we know why he never really followed up his breakthrough role. Not that Bentley is alone here, most of the performances are manic and mannered – which probably has to be blamed on co-writer/director Thomas C. Dunn.
Too bad, because The Perfect Witness does have a very interesting premise – if just a hair too much like the recent Kevin Costner dud Mr. Brooks. It had the potential to be a very good film, but instead it starts out well and then quickly degenerates into cliché.
Ironically, we first see Bentley’s character of Mick lurking in the dark of a back alley, videotaping people that don’t know he is there. I don’t know if that is a reference to Bentley’s American Beauty character, who also only experienced life through a video camera lens. In fact, this character could be that character grown older and even more toxically cynical.
Mick is a self-described “documentary filmmaker” (though the only evidence of this career we see is one brief clip of an interview with a drug-addicted girl). He is also a recovering addict – we see him in an AA meeting and see his six-month-sober pin – though he seems to have had a drug problem as well.
His latest project/obsession is a local serial killer. By studying the evidence he is able to figure out that the killer is James Lemac (played with over-the-top menace by unknown Mark Borkowski, who also co-wrote the script) and when and where he will commit his next crime. Perhaps Mick should forget filmmaking and join the police department.
Instead, Mick lurks in that dark alley and videotapes Lemac killing a woman. The fact that the character is so disconnected that he can watch a murder taking place without helping is just the first of many character traits that make it impossible for you to feel any sympathy for Mick when his plot goes sour on him.
Mick sends a copy of the video to Lemac and makes him meet him. He makes a proposal to the killer – he will not take the tape to the police if Lemac agrees to be the subject of his film and submit to a series of interviews.
Oh yes, trying to negotiate with serial killers always goes well.
Some of the early interviews are actually kind of interesting looks into the heart of darkness. Of course, the deeper that Mick gets into Lemac’s world the darker everything gets. The killer steadily drags him deeper, threatening Mick’s family and friends and eventually tricking the filmmaker into watching his attacks. Meanwhile, Mick is slowly but surely slipping back into all of his addictions.
Eventually all the complications turn into a been-there/done-that tug of war between the killer and his nemesis.
Of course, it may have been easier to take if the movie was more well-made. The actual filming is jumbled and muddy. In fact, the movie was filmed in my hometown of Philadelphia, and yet I barely recognized anyplace on screen – though, granted it was mostly filmed in some of the seedier neighborhoods of the city.
Therefore, The Perfect Witness turns out to be far from perfect.
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 29, 2008.