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Mercy (2010)
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by Erik Childress

"Beauty And The Caan"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: It’s a tale as old as time. That’s not just a line from a song either, nor one referring to previous incarnations of the Beauty and the Beast mythos. They are caricatures just as much as characters. Man as King Kong or just the conquering cad that has made his way through the female population, satisfying his own needs in the moment they need to be quenched. Woman as more than just the conquest, the vision of purity that can tame the animal either for a moment or a lifetime. It’s as much of a cliché as it is one for the psych books and the screenwriters. Adam & Eve may have been the original twist on the situation but it is indeed a tale as old as time. We’ve probably seen every twist and variation on the same story before and every outcome imaginable. Or have we? Scott Caan, who has turned his talents to writing and directing a pair of well-done indie features (Dallas 362 & The Dog Problem), has found a way to twist the old story up just enough for us to pay attention at least one more time.

Caan plays Johnny Ryan, a young novelist who traded in his S.E. Hinton-inspired past for a life of sobriety and literary success. But certainly not his ability to charm women out of their pants, a trait that certainly comes easier now with a little fame and monetary attention. After already securing the evening for a waitress serving at his party, he goes into another room and sees the stunning vision of Mercy (Wendy Glenn). Clearly she’s not having any of his attempts at charming her and, although there’s an intrigue to such a challenge, there’s always another fish and another night. Except it turns out that she’s a New York book critic and the sole voice of dissent in a sea of raves over his latest book. Johnny tracks her down to discuss her thoughts and soon each are discovering that the other aren’t as cold as they originally suspected.

Their relationship grows until the film jumps forward to tell us about the “AFTER” effects. (The first half is referred to as the “BEFORE.”) What we know is that Mercy is no longer in Johnny’s life sometime after we’ve seen him present her with a ring and he’s now the guy who grows a beard, hangs out in bars and picks fights with bartenders. He’s got the requisite friends on every side of the crossroads. There’s Erik (John Boyd), constantly at odds with his on-again, off-again girlfriend who whines endlessly to Johnny about it. His happily married best friend (Troy Garity) tries to set him up a rebound girl (Erika Christensen) to ease his pain. Johnny’s agent (Dylan McDermott) seems indifferent to the whole concept of love except for his client. Finally, Johnny’s dad (James Caan), who has been the inspiration for avoiding pain by sowing for one’s loins tells him to just forget all about Mercy.

What really happened though? Who is to blame? Can Johnny be fixed? The central mystery of Caan’s script certainly keeps us guessing and, at times, overwhelms some of the more interesting thematic elements that we would like to see explored more. With only 80-some minutes to tell this story, although the film is pretty evenly divided between the before and the after, there’s little opportunity to delve into the dynamics of the whys people change the way they do. It’s easy to see why Johnny would develop an infatuation with a gorgeous woman who looks like Wendy Glenn, but why is the opposite so? Inventing Mercy as a member of the critical community, specifically as one who calls Johnny on his B.S. - both in person and in print – her guard does seem to go down rather quickly. With the demise of their relationship in question, we do entertain the possibility of some LaBute-ian mind games being tested but never quite believe they are as cruelly calculating.

Where the film does find its success though is in the overall contributions of Scott Caan. As the scripter, Caan the writer is certainly taking care of Caan the actor on the female side - getting to make time with Glenn and Whitney Able in love scenes – but also on the dramatic side as well. We’ve seen Caan play the dubious charmer from Varsity Blues to Friends With Money (and his own Dog Problem), but there’s a nice vulnerability he’s able to tap into during the “after” scenes and squares up nicely in scenes with his dad, who also does solid work in not overplaying the potential cliché of an estranged boozer with the contrary advice. The potentiality for self-indulgence is easily recognizable, what with the autobiographical aspect of having a tough-as-nails dad (portrayed by the actual father) and playing a young writer (on his third project) being praised to the hilt, but Caan is able to successfully separate Johnny from Scott and make us believe in his pain.

Mercy is certainly a showcase for Scott Caan and not as fully fleshed out as Dallas 362 and The Dog Problem, two films that deserve to be added to your Netflix queues. The former delved into more of reconciling the kind of bad boy past only sporadically discussed here and the latter was a truly funny and original tale about a struggling writer coming to terms with love. Mercy is more like the opening act to those explorations, feeling precisely, at times, like the kind of project actors tend to create for themselves when they want to branch out their talents. But as that opening act it’s enough to notice Caan as a guy of considerable ones. It’s certainly some of his best work as an actor and it’s structure as a screenplay separates itself from just another piece of lothario rehab, even if it helps feed into feminine moires that such guys can be tamed. Mercy’s resolution will run the spectrum of reaction from devastating to hokey and it rests on Caan’s performance more than the script to help bridge that gap, which I believe even critics of Mercy’s stature will admit he pulls off admirably.

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originally posted: 06/26/09 01:18:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2009 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 15th Annual Gen Art Film Festival For more in the 15th Annual Gen Art Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/27/12 Kristie Felt real, could feel the heartbreak and pain of Scott's character 4 stars
10/07/10 Claudia A great touching movie! 5 stars
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  30-Apr-2010 (R)
  DVD: 28-Sep-2010


  DVD: 28-Sep-2010

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