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by Jay Seaver

"Well worth hailing."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The word "hail" can mean a number of things, and for some reason I kept thinking of the wrong ones until about halfway through the movie, when some bad weather follows a bad event, and the sound as much as anything seemed absolutely right. After all, there are a lot of figures of speech that use rain to indicate unfortunate events in one's life, but for some people, it comes down harder and you don't always have shelter.

Take Danny (Daniel P. Jones); in and out of jail all his life, his last stint has ended a few days early, allowing him to surprise longtime lady love Leanne (Leanne Letch). This time, he resolves, he's going to stay on the straight and narrow. He is humble as he goes to various auto body shops to ask for a chance to show what he can do. He really seems to have it together most of the time, and even the friends who have been part of the problem before are encouraging. But...

Star Daniel P. Jones knows this role; it is him in almost every way. Director Amiel Courtin-Wilson had previously made a short film ("Cicada") of Jones relating a personal story, and for Hail he combed through five hundred pages of Jones' reminiscences to immerse himself in this man's life and world. Leanne Letch is Jones' real-life girlfriend, and many other cast members are playing themselves or fictionalized versions thereof. The locations add to the verisimilitude and Courtin-Wilson's experience as a documentary filmmaker shows; even in intimate shots, there's a sense of the camera being out of the way as the subjects go about their lives.

With all that in place, it almost seems improper to talk about what Jones and Letch do as acting or performance, although that is what's going on; though there is likely some footage where Courtin-Wilson just captured them being themselves, there is a story that requires them to display specific emotions at specific times. They do that quite well, thank you; Jones in particular makes astonishing displays of instability and despair as he collapses slowly and then quickly. There's a moment where Danny plaintively talks about being unable to hold it together that it's hard to imagine trained actors delivering with such sincerity. And it doesn't hurt they are not pretty people: They carry extra weight, are short on teeth, and their faces show the wear of a lifetime of drink and more; they look like they've lived hard rather than eschewed make-up.

Plus, it's not like Courtin-Wilson and the other filmmakers have just pointed the camera, let the amateurs go, and then tried to cut things together in the editing suite. The story does get a bit wobbly in the second half, as disaster sends characters down a genre path despite maintaining a slice-of-life aesthetic. The editing is fantastic, throughout, and the sound is brilliant as well: Ambient noise that sets the stage without distracting until it's disruptive or time to make a statement (as with the hail mentioned up top), while Steve Benwell's music bridges scenes and becomes more discordantly atonal as the onscreen situation deteriorates.

Those things make "Hail" a remarkably realistic take on the story of an ex-con trying to get his life together even as it occasionally goes for unusual presentation. It brings a documentary feel to its drama, and is well worth checking out.

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originally posted: 09/15/12 13:30:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2012 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2012 series, click here.

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Directed by
  Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Written by
  Amiel Courtin-Wilson

  Daniel P. Jones
  Leanne Letch
  Dario Ettia

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