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On the Corner
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by Chris Parry

"Lifestyles of the never-to-be-rich or famous"
4 stars

I've often said that there are few cities in the world that are as pretty, pleasant, accepting and modern as Vancouver, Canada. In fact, after living in literally dozens of different places around the world for various stretches, I eventually selected Vancouver as the place that feels most like home. But while this city is drenched in sun, nature, youth, culture and prosperity, if you take the bus down to a place called East Hastings, you'll be surprised to find a part of town where businesses won't stay open past six in the evening, drivers won't park their cars, and tourists fear to tread. Vancouver's downtown eastside is a pit - not necessarily one where you feel threatened, but definitely one crawling in people who have lost the fight to advance themselves and instead sleep rough, find money any way they can, and take all manner of chemical additives to get themselves through a day. These people wouldn't last five minutes in the nastier areas of LA or New York where cops and gangs are as much a danger as the substances they put in their blood stream, but in Vancouver a penniless man can live relatively well. Considering.

On the Corner follows Randy, a young native kid played by Simon Baker. No, not the Simon Baker from TV's The Guardian, this is the Simon Baker who played a young Adam Beach in Smoke Signals a few years back. Anyhoo, Randy leaves the reservation and finds his way to Vancouver in hope of finding his sister, Angel (Alex Rice) who had left a few years earlier. She's landed on her feet, in a manner of speaking, and she now works as a hooker, lives in a rundown one-room apartment and does drugs whenever she can. For Randy, the family reunion isn't exactly a fun one.

Adding to his mood, Randy wants to know what happened to his father, who also left the reservation for Vancouver some years prior and hasn't been heard from since.

What follows is fairly predictable, but none the less disconcerting, as Randy is slowly indoctrinated into the culture of quick money, short term happiness, and long term destruction that permeates the area. Randy falls for his sister's friend and fellow hooker Stacey (Katharine Isabelle), but she's 'owned' by a selfish junkie (at the risk of sounding redundant) named Cliffie (JR Bourne), who drags the whole group down, again and again.

On the Corner is a depressing film. I mean, you probably gathered that already, but as much as it tends to drift toward the melodramatic, this is no after-school TV special. The performances range from passable to great, the director knows how to keep his presence to a minimum, shooting things bare bones without falling victim to the all-too-tired Shaky-Cam . while the film could easily have ventured into territory that would polarize the audience, portraying the leads as monsters out of control, On the Corner isn't so much an indictment of the people in this segment of society as it is those who use them, prey on them and ultimately keep them underheel to suit their own need. The John's, the drug dealers, the locals who shrug and walk on by; these are the real villains of this film, and that allows the filmmaker and the actors to concentrate on telling their story, rather than preaching.

The inclination is to think that a film such as this will appeal more to people in Vancouver than it will those in other parts of the world, but I tend to think that's simplistic thinking. In fact, if my experience in this town is anything to go by, the attitude towards the downtown eastside is that the less it's thought about, the better, whereas those in other places may well get a whole lot more out of the film by learning about a place and people they've never been exposed to. Let's not forget Once Were Warriors, which had a big effect in its home country of New Zealand, but an even bigger effect where the issues of the Maori people were largely unheard of.

Canadian film has come a long way in the last few years, and while On the Corner definitely is a flick that fits in the 'quirky, message-based, Canadian arthouse film' variety, it's one that shows far more filmmaking talent and a whole lot more thought than most films of a similar nature - Canadian or otherwise.

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originally posted: 06/20/04 09:28:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/09/09 Shaun Wallner Very Interesting 4 stars
6/20/06 Vesanto Melina Profoundly touching. Disturbing in reflecting a tragic reality, & beautifully done. 5 stars
1/05/05 Lee Mason A movie all Aboriginal youth should see before making the decision to come to Vancouver 4 stars
12/21/04 PDE This film took me back to a place I never again want to experience. Powerful in that sense 4 stars
8/10/04 Chris Connell Gripping honesty, sitting at the edge of my seat 5 stars
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  18-Jun-2004 (NR)



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