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Odds, The
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by Jason Whyte

"Don't hedge your bets, kiddo."
4 stars

It isn't easy being Desson (Tyler Johnston), a senior in high school whom, as "The Odds" opens, clearly has it all figured it out. He's cool, handsome and knows how to talk his way in or out of any situation. While a bit shorter than your average senior, he dares you to judge him by his size. He's the kind of kid we either wanted to be in high school, or were ultimately jealous of and ultimately hated.

And of course, everything goes wrong. Desson and his buddies are big into gambling at their high school, be it with betting on an in-school wrestling match or having late night poker sessions in the basement of Paul's (Jaren Brandt Bartlett) house. When one of Desson's friends Barry (Calum Worthy) turns up dead in his garage, it sets Desson further into the gambling underground to find out what happened. Was it suicide? A murder? A set up by someone bigger? Meanwhile Desson gets involved with Colleen (Julia Maxwell), a girl he really likes but must keep distance with as things get more complicated.

"The Odds" stands out as a low budget movie that uses its minimalism to great effect. The movie has earned a few comparisons to "Brick" but I don't really see too many comparisons to Rian Johnson's classic youth drama. This Vancouver shot, Canadian financed movie also doesn't have a lot of trappings that this country usually spews out either. It's dark and gloomy at times, yet refreshing to see this kind of story told in this manner. Simon Davidson, a filmmaker who I seem to keep running into at film festivals around my area, clearly has an ear for good dialogue but also a love for the dark edge of society, that kind of grim underworld that we so rarely travel down but are nevertheless fascinated with.

What I especially liked about "The Odds" is how Davidson uses the surroundings to his advantage: the setting of Paul's basement lair, with all the wood panelings, makeshift bar and hidden rooms reminds me of a lot of older houses where the downstairs area was where all the action would really happen. There's also great uses of dark lighting (captured very well by cinematographer Norman Li) in driving sequences, and a surprising scene on a cricket field where the overly lit scene is surprising amidst all the darkness. Mention must also be made of the moody music score by Patrick Caird and the fun songs on the soundtrack that help set the tone.

The cast is tremendous, in fact one of the high points of the film. The lead, Tyler Johnston, is a force of a talent who commands every shot he's in. Of course he channels an 80's, "Risky Business" era Tom Cruise, and that's not a bad thing at all. Julia Maxwell makes a terrific impression as someone who is less a girlfriend type to Desson but someone who stands on her own two feet (in particular I loved her line "Do I have 'Desperate' written across my forehead?" when arguing with Desson). Scott Patey as a slightly comic gambling buddy has some memorable moments. And as the somewhat "bad" kid, Jaren Brandt Bartlett is outstanding as the type of guy who can be really scary to deal with yet turn on the charm in a split second. These are all stars, baby.

"The Odds" has a few mis-steps -- Desson's recently widowed father character and his backstory is a tad underwritten and I can see some budget constraints with location shooting -- yet these are small but forgivable issues in the long run. I am always reminded of old friend Gavin Heffernan's take on indie filmmaking; "Take stock of what you have, and run with it." Of course I can imagine what "The Odds" would look like with a multi-million dollar budget and a more known cast. But we wouldn't have this darkly fun movie.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=22844&reviewer=350
originally posted: 04/18/12 05:07:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

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