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by Charles Tatum

"Pennitentiary State"
4 stars

Penn State has given the nation many things over the years- like Joe Paterno and TV's "Paranormal State" (featuring the lovely Katrina...and something about ghosts). I'm sure there are famous alumni and what-not, but the newest artistic force to come out of the university are identical twin brothers Ranju and Sanjit Majumdar, who have crafted this mean little crime thriller.

Alec (Sanjit Majumdar) has flunked out of Burroughs University. His parents have cut him off, and he cannot find a way back home to New Jersey. After hitting up some friends who are still attending school, he decides on one of those criminal plans that always seem foolproof, but in reality is a chaotic train wreck just waiting to happen.

Alec decides to burglarize Jeff (Geoffrey Ohen), a local drug dealer. He recruits his recovering addict friend Tristan (Ryan Lewis) with a little cocaine, but during the crime Jeff walks in and is shot and killed. The underground crime scene in the small town reels, and reacts violently. Chuck (Alan Van Pelt), the guy who got Alec and Tristan their weapons, winds up dead, and other seemingly small-time hoods suddenly start gunning big-time for the panicking duo...oh, and Tristan's cute girlfriend Lynn (Darcel Grant) is feeling ignored.

"Determinism" has one of those complicated storylines that cannot be detailed too much without spoiling some major plot points. The Majumdar brothers have taken a tried and true tale, and tweaked it using what they had. Out of necessity, they set the film on a college campus, and surrounding college apartments (which must look the exact same no matter where you live in this country), and even bravely shoot in the middle of winter and mostly at night. Aside from a little awkwardness, I thoroughly enjoyed this.

In addition to writing, acting, and producing, the brothers' names are all over the credits. They did an outstanding job, I enjoyed the moody cinematography and brisk editing. Sanjit is almost sympathetic as Alec, complaining about people reacting to him being of Indian descent, yet the viewer is not preached to. There is an underlying element about race throughout the film, it's as if nothing and everything concern where these characters' ancestry hails from. Lewis is very good as a twitchy Tristan, and plays very well off of Majumdar. Ismael Iniguez as Wallington is great, watching him go from newbie drug dealer to cold-blooded gangster is interesting to watch. I also liked Mike Preyer as Kallen.

The story is a labyrinth of plot, but the introductory onscreen naming of the characters helped. Much of the entertainment lies in the complications Alec and Tristan bring upon themselves. You don't necessarily hope they succeed, but their respective downward spirals are believable, as are the peripheral criminals who populate the campus. Settling for actual locations help the film's realism, with some darkly comic moments coming from these gun-toting hoodlums worried about class and art projects.

The Majumdar brothers have graduated from college, according to the film's website (, and hopefully "Determinism" is the start of bigger things to come.

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originally posted: 12/10/10 08:36:36
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 13-Sep-2013



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