BushwickReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/26/17 03:23:45
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The makers of "Bushwick" were likely never going to be able to bury its progressive message under a movie that people across the political spectrum went to see for the well-made action, but it's not hard to imagine the people financing the film wishing they would be a little more coy. It turns out that the film is hitting video on demand and a few theaters at a time when patience with wishy-washiness is fairly spent, so it's in good shape there. And while the script and story are often a bit simple, the action is impressively elaborate, often eyebrow-raising in both what the filmmakers do and how they do it.It opens with Lucy (Brittany Snow), a graduate student coming home to Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood for Thanksgiving break, walking through a strangely empty subway platform with her boyfriend, only for them to get the shock of their life as they discover that there is open warfare going happening on the surface. As they are separated by a sniper's gunfire, the camera follows Lucy as she takes cover from both invaders and those looking to take advantage of the chaos in the basement of Stupe (Dave Bautista), an ex-Marine Corps medic who wants to reach his family in Jersey City, but agrees to help Lucy find her grandmother and cousin Belinda (Angelic Zambrana). Eventually, it becomes clear that the only hope of escape from this organized invasion is making their way to the Army's evacuation point at Cleveland Park, but to fight their way there, Lucy and Stupe must act as go-betweens for JP (Jeremie Harris), who has guns, and Father John (Bill Blechingberg), who has people hiding in his church.
Bushwick opens with a bit of cute banter, but it's not long before that's interrupted by violence, and after a while, someone watching the movie with an eye toward filmmaking technique (whether purposeful or not) will notice they can't remember the last cut. It's about then that the degree to which the film is not going to let up sinks in, and what seemed like an interesting what-if about Brooklyn being attacked by domestic terrorists becomes a grueling survival thriller. It's a heck of a well-executed one, too, even with some cuts that aren't as hidden as the filmmakers were trying for not diminishing just how much they've often got going on in a sequence. Directors Cary Murnion & Jonathan Milott are plenty ambitious and don't miss many tricks, especially during the first half, stitching together tight bits centered on a single room with long handheld shots through a school building, and often doing this while keeping a sniper and his victim in the same shot. The action that can be surprising both for its relentless and for how it never seems escapist; the tension comes from just how ugly things have become in a matter of hours.
It's a hard pace to keep up, perhaps impossible; though the filmmakers don't stray far from real time, there is a major pause to regroup at the midpoint and a little more obvious stitching later on as if they're marshalling their strength for a finale as frantic and horrific as anything found in a more conventional war movie and all the more so for being set and shot in the middle of present-day Brooklyn. There's a bit of a struggle with what the filmmakers want the movie to be in the second half, as Murnion, Millott, and screenwriters Nick Damici and Graham Reznick have a hard time capitalizing on the fact that the "invaders" are domestic terrorists who think "ethno-diversity" will make Brooklyn an easy target beyond a few fun moments. The shift to a more introspective war movie which slows down and pauses enough for grief and horror as well as adrenaline isn't a bad move but it's an awkward implementation of a good idea - the audience can see the filmmakers' hands as they try to get Stupe and Lucy to a spot where they can talk without all of the other characters they've accumulated interrupting.
If the audience didn't get to a place where it could enjoy the pair having a while to get formally acquainted, that would stop the movie dead, but the actors handle it well. Dave Batista is nicely understated as Stupe, defined in a lot of ways by his mournfulness and regret but not so crushed under it that his every move is about showing how sad the man is; he is also fairly good at explaining the mechanics of combat and first aid as need be without droning on. Brittany Snow sells what her character grows into over an hour and a half of real time very well, ably depicting an affection for the neighborhood that becomes more genuine than assumed and the change from someone who often acts out of selfish panic to a potential leader. The filmmakers also supply a highly entertaining supporting cast for them to play off - Angelic Zambrana's Belinda highlights how impressive Lucy is without looking useless herself, for instance, while Jeremie Harris and Myra Lucretia Taylor make a neat duo as the gang member who thinks he's more impressive than he is and the grandmother who knows better ("you don't remember the Seventies" is perfectly-delivered deadpan scolding). It's pretty important that this sort of on-the-move picture come up with characterizations one instantly grasps and then has life breathed into them, and this one does that extremely well, giving a whole lot of spark to what could be a dry exercise in hitting marks so that the action works.Taken as a whole, "Bushwick" might be a little more ambitious than is wise for something with its resources - it's trying to be a pointed metaphor, emotionally wrenching, a long-take showcase, and large-scale action by turns, and winds up doing some better than others. The whole might not quite be greater than the sum of its parts, but a few of those parts are quite good, especially when you take a moment to think about how seldom those sort of real-time pieces can sustain themselves as long as this film's do.
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