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Luster (2011)
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by Jay Seaver

"Jekyll and Hyde should really have more conflict."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: I'm not saying that it should be an ironclad rule that a movie by the name of "Luster", with a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde theme, should go a little more heavy on the sex, but that would have given it a little something. Instead, it just sort of sits there, not awful but not particularly impressive.

Thomas Luster (Andrew Howard) is tired all the time, although he's got plenty of reasons. He's running a small landscaping business that is fairly stressful, considering that his current client Halo Kennedy (Pollyanna Rose) is dragging her feet on approval and payment. His unemployed actor neighbor Travis (Ian Duncan) seems to be flirting with his wife Jennifer (Tess Panzer) a little too much. The closest friend he's got is Les (Tommy Flanagan), a homeless vet who has parked his car behind Tom's shop. One day, Les offers him some sleeping pills, and though he gets a full night's sleep, he soon finds notes telling him to stop taking the pills. Thinking that someone is breaking in, he buys a security system, only to find on examining the recordings that things are stranger than that.

Director Adam Mason (working with regular co-writer Simon Boyes) sets things up well enough, although at some early points it's hard to tell whether the sleeping pills are creating Tom's other side or doing enough to suppress it that "Luster" feels the need to reveal himself and fight back. The second is more logical, although it raises a question of how Luster had gone more or less undetected for so long. Still, this sort of movie is often more about atmosphere than logic, and Mason does a nice job in terms of seeding little things that take on more significance, and by presenting the movie mostly from Tom's perspective, he gives us a good look at just how unnerving this sort of missing time can be, especially when it's clear that one's alter ego is doing some very bad things.

Unfortunately, it cuts both ways - because Tom is generally nice and non-confrontational, he all too often winds up just doing what Luster demands as the movie goes on; he seldom feels like an active participant in the battle against his other half. It always feels as if there's something in this fight that is not articulated, something holding Tom back or that forces Luster into doing things that don't make a whole lot of sense. As much as having Tom be confused an ineffectual makes for a good start, he really needs to be doing something by the end. Otherwise it winds up being just a cynical story of a man's better nature being steamrolled by his dark side, but one where we don't even get to see what makes the dark side appealing.

Not that doing so would necessarily make things a whole lot better; although Andrew Howard turns in a pretty good performance on the Tom side, his Luster is kind of a cliché - a thuggish personality, a more gravelly voice, and no glasses (does being more aggressive and amoral correct one's eyesight, or does Tom have contacts that he never uses?). It's a nice transformation in body language, but not that impressive when all is said and done.

The rest of the cast does all right - Tess Panzer makes Jennifer nice to have on screen and has some good moments freaking out as Tom's paranoia makes him scarier, although most of the others are pretty much one-note. Still, it's always fun when Tommy Flanagan shows up on screen; it's a great sidekick role, the one that supplies most of the movie's comic relief with extra sparks for every scene he's in.

Ultimately, though, the movie fizzles. Mason doesn't give us more than a half-baked story about Tom trying to outwit Luster, and without it, the movie ends at the point where exciting things should start happening. Instead, it just stops, with an ending that may be un-Hollywood but also winds up being pretty empty.

(Note: Due to a projection error, the last few moments of the movie were not shown, although the audience was told how it finished. From what I heard, I don't think this would change my opinion of the movie as a whole, but I am willing to revisit "Luster" when the opportunity presents itself.)

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=22318&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/03/11 05:56:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2011 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/11/12 Jason Version screened at BUFF:5 stars. Completed version I saw yesterday: 3. They ruined it. 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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Directed by
  Adam Mason

Written by
  Adam Mason
  Simon Boyes

Cast
  Andrew Howard
  Tess Panzer
  Tommy Flanagan
  Ian Duncan



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