CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Channing Tatum Stars in Inconsistent ‘The Son of No One’
CHICAGO – Director Dito Montiel and star Channing Tatum were once tagged with the label of the hot new debut artistic partnership. 2006’s great “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” introduced both men to the world and it felt like it could be the calling card for a creative team to someday rival Scorsese and De Niro. Tatum reunited with Montiel on the disappointing “Fighting” and their latest venture, “The Son of No One,” while an improvement on Montiel’s sophomore slump, is nonetheless another misfire.
Of course, many readers will recognize Tatum from his more mainstream fare like “The Dilemma” and “G.I. Joe,” but he had such a instant screen presence in “Saints” that I always hoped he’d find his way to more gritty indie fare like “The Son of No One,” based on Montiel’s book. This is a challenging piece, a drama about hidden pasts and the changing face of an increasingly-dark New York City in the year after 9/11, and it’s the kind of piece that I would wager works significantly better on the page than it does on the screen. It’s the kind of role that I’d like to see Tatum take more often and he does nothing wrong here. In fact, he gives a more challenging, deep performance than he has in some time, clearly being invigorated by working with Montiel again. But the rest of the movie, especially the script and direction by Tatum’s friend, makes the actor’s quality work hard to see.
The Son of No One
Photo credit: Anchor Bay
The biggest problem with “The Son of No One” is a borderline-incoherent flashback structure. The film is constantly bouncing back and forth between 2002 and 1986 in a manner that never allows either time period to gel into something interesting. Montiel would have been wiser to trim the flashbacks or tell the story chronologically but the constant interchange between the two leads to a lack of rhythm and pace, two essential ingredients in a film like this one. This is a dark story in which we need to care about the characters and the way Montiel wrote and edited it makes that difficult to do. It’s messy when it needs to be engaging; choppy when it needs to draw us in.
Police Officer Jonathan White (Tatum) has been assigned to a rough new district but one that he knows all too well. When he was a kid (over-played by Jake Cherry), he lived in this bad neighborhood and he shot a man who was threatening his life. The police, including the former partner of the young White’s father, Detective Charles Stanford (Al Pacino), swept it under the rug, figuring the dead man wasn’t worth much anyway and that it might help to have a kid on the inside of the projects to help them out. Not long after, another scumbag ends up dead in a similarly justifiable, accidental manner. Sixteen years later, a reporter (Juliette Binoche) is investigating the unsolved crimes and threatens to upend White’s life. Ray Liotta plays his new Captain, James Ransome his partner, Katie Holmes his wife, and Tracy Morgan his childhood friend, one of the few people who knows the truth about what happened to the boy nicknamed “Milk.”
The Son of No One
Photo credit: Anchor Bay
There are scenes in “The Son of No One” that work. Liotta and Pacino are always effective in police officer roles (even if the parts too easily allow them to give performances that aren’t exactly challenging) and the film is constantly threatening to find a groove whenever Tatum has a strong partner with which to work (like Liotta or Binoche). When he doesn’t, or whenever the film is in flashback, it simply sags. The cast isn’t helped out by poor production decisions on Montiel’s part including an over-used and awkward score by Jonathan Elias & David Wittman and shaky, inconsistent cinematography by Benoit Delhomme. Even the editing seems off.
But the major flaws of “The Son of No One” come back to the ineffective script, forever damaged by a finale shootout that is simply ridiculous. More crucially, WAY too much time is spent with the young Mr. White, as Montiel forgets that it’s far more interesting to see how the adult version of this justifiable killer is coming to terms with his past rather than just watching the details of it, even if that does mean cutting some of Mr. Pacino’s monologues. 2002 scenes like the one in which Tatum goes home again to discover that the kid who helped protect him has become a seriously-damaged adult or the flashes of recognition on his face as he realizes his new secrets are rising to the surface work. There are moments in “The Son of No One” with power, performances with strength, but none of the moments are connected in an effective manner. If it was 2006 again, one might be tempted to say that the work shows promise for young Mr. Tatum and his friend director if they could just refine their skills. But you can only be the “hot new thing” once. Let’s hope the fourth time’s the charm.