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Tre
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Film As Good As "Fool's Gold" Is Awful"
5 stars

If I were forced to deliver a one-line summation of the new indie drama “Tre,” it would probably read something along the lines of “A twentysomething woman’s life is thrown into turmoil when her fiance’s lifelong best pal arrives on the scene.” And yet, while I could easily do that, I wouldn’t want to for a couple of reasons. For one, such a description makes it sound like the kind of film that you have seen a dozen times before–it could be one of those mumblecore things that the kids are talking about in which inarticulate actors recite pseudo-profound dialogue before a camera struggling to stay in focus or maybe a late-night Skinemax special in which the deepest things on display are the cleavage and the breathing. For another, that one sentence barely begins to suggest the depths of the film and the riches contained therein–far from being just another potboiler, it is a smart and incisive look at contemporary relationships that avoids all the cliches that one might expect to find while telling a story that is as emotionally gripping as any thriller

The film begins on an ominous note with shots of a man driving drunkenly though the winding hills of Santa Monica in the wee hours of the morning before pulling into the driveway of a home. The driver is Tre (Daniel Cariaga), the home belongs to his lifelong pal Gabe (Erik McDowell) and Gabe’s girlfriend Kakela (Kimberly-Rose Wolter) and Tre has arrived to crash in the guest cottage in back after the end of yet another failed relationship. From the easy familiarity that greets his arrival, we instantly realize that Tre dropping anchor at the house is nothing new but he soon learns that things are different this time around. For one, the cottage is already being occupied by Nina (Alix Koromzay), a friend of Kakela’s who is staying there after having just separated from her husband after he confessed to kissing a co-worker for ten seconds. (When someone comments that it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, she responds “Imagine kissing someone you aren’t supposed to be kissing for ten seconds” and then slowly counts to ten to emphasize just how long ten seconds can really be.) This is not welcome news to Tre, who is one of those people who always feels the need to push peoples buttons regarding subjects that are probably best left unspoken, and Nina isn’t particularly enthused by Tre’s presence either. That said, this mutual dislike doesn’t prevent the two of them from beginning an affair that is so obviously half-hearted and doomed from the start that you wonder why they are even bothering to go through the motions in the first place.

The second complication arises when Gabe proposes to Kakela and she accepts. At first she is happy enough but when she stumbles upon Tre and Nina in the middle of a tryst, her barely contained anger at Nina’s apparent unwillingness to give her marriage a fighting chance causes her to begin to have doubts about her own relationship with Gabe. These doubts are further underscored when Tre begins putting the low-key moves on her as well While she cannot stand his crude bluntness (such as when he needles her literary ambitions by reminding her that until she actually sells something, she is only an “aspiring” writer) and cannot understand Gabe’s devotion to him, she nevertheless realizes that she and Tre have more in common than she would care to admit–both have stunted relationships with their parents (hers are dead and he is estranged from his mother), both have enough money to ensure that they don’t need to work as Gabe and Nina do to pay the bills and both have a certain core darkness of the soul that she tries to deny and he wholeheartedly embraces. What eventually happens between Tre and Kakela is perhaps inevitable under the circumstances–what happens between them, Gabe and Nina as a result of what happens between them, on the other hand, is not so inevitable.

“Tre” is the new film from Eric Byler, whose first effort, 2003's “Charlotte Sometimes,” remains one of the most fascinating debut films to emerge this decade. Because “Tre,” like that earlier film, deals with questions of friendship, fidelity and betrayal among a quartet of people, one might be tempted to think that Byler has simply decided to tell the same story again in lieu of offering up anything new. While the films do share a few common themes and even a couple of actors, “Tre,” which he co-wrote with Wolter, is a different experience, though one that is just as rewarding as “Charlotte Sometimes.” This is a darker and richer work in which the emotional stakes are raised in subtle but perceptible ways, mostly because we can never be sure from scene to scene of Tre’s motivations for doing what he does with Kakela–is he merely trying to short-circuit a relationship that he can sense is doomed in order to save his friend from heartbreak that he can see coming a mile away or does he recognize Kakela as the kind of kindred spirit who is worth tearing down the walls that he has so assiduously built around his heart in all of his other relationships? In many ways, the characters are playing a high-stakes game of emotional poker–never letting on what they are holding–and when all the cards are finally revealed, the results are devastating for all involved and since we have become so engrossed in their stories, we feel the impact almost as strongly as they do.

As regular readers may have heard me mention before, two of my all-time favorite directors are the late Robert Altman and his one-time protégée Alan Rudolph and while Byler is by no means offering carbon copies of their work, he shares many of their strengths as a filmmaker. Like Altman, Byler is able to create a distinct world and a gallery of fully fleshed-out individuals without resorting to laborious expository dialogue explaining the characters and their backgrounds, motivations and relationships to each other–he manages to convey all of that with only a few well-chosen and well-worded lines that sound like the things that people who already know each other might actually to one another. Like Rudolph, he has a gift for taking a story premise that might seem aching familiar on the surface and approaches it in such a disarmingly off-kilter manner that it feels as if we are looking at it for the first time–as a result, the film generates a tension that a story of this type might not ordinarily posses simply because we have no idea where the story is going or how the characters will react. And like both Altman and Rudolph, Byler is great at working with actors–while the central cast may be largely unknown to the majority of moviegoers, the impressions that they create are so indelible that you will come away from the film with their collective presence etched in your mind in a way that you probably wouldn’t have gotten with more familiar faces in the roles.

“Tre” is currently opening slowly in a number of big cities throughout the country (it is currently playing in Los Angeles and Chicago and opens next week in San Francisco) and the sad truth is that, barring a miracle, it probably won’t play in many places outside of the major urban areas. That is a shame because there is this is a film that I can easily see striking a chord with audiences looking for a film that doesn’t insult their intelligence while providing more intrigue, sexual tension and dark humor than most current releases. All I can say is that if you don’t live in one of the cities in which it is playing, then jot down the title and either wait for it to play near you or tack it onto your Netflix list. If it is playing near you, however, I would highly recommend that you make a concerted effort to seek it out instead of wasting your time on the current multiplex fodder like the abysmal “Fool’s Gold.” Trust me, you’ll be glad that you did.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17208&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/08/08 16:00:00
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User Comments

2/18/08 Richard Connolly Added deep ramifications to my life choices 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  01-Feb-2008 (NR)
  DVD: 06-May-2008

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