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Day Release
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by Jay Seaver

"Out of jail to get into a little more trouble."
4 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2015: There's a casual feel to certain crime flicks that makes them seem simultaneously streams and natural, like they take place in a more impulsive parallel universe where what makes a good story more easily trumps good sense and is much easier to just drop into a situation and be part of it than it may be in reality. "Day Release" tries for that and mostly manages it, although sorting up the foundations just a bit wouldn't hurt.

Mark Rodriguez (Jesus Lloveras) has screwed up a lot in his life, although the way his brother Toni (Javier Beltran) describes him - a "drug-trafficking murderer" - is probably more harsh than necessary; that sort of reprobate doesn't tend to get parole after just five years. Pushed away by Toni, he decides to check in on Mia (Sara Casasnovas), the girl he rather rudely kicked out of his cast when they woke up in the back seat in the morning. That may be his best decision of the day, although when he walks out of the cafe where she works, there's an armored car being violently robbed in the parking lot, and he decides that his best course of action is to follow the perpetrators afterward.

Stories built around guys like Mark must be tough nuts to crack - the odds are against him whether it comes to out-fighting or out-thinking his opponents, and there's not really any sort of hidden quality likely to give him any special chance to succeed. It winds up making Day Release a caper movie where the protagonist is very much in over his head, and that's kind of a wobbly thing; watching Mark come up with a plan and execute it isn't quite the same sort fun as when things really slide into place. At the same time, it never exactly feels like Mark is suffering from terrible hubris.

Jesus Lloveras is fairly strong as the guy in this situation, though. There's probably a temptation, both as actor and co-writer, to portray a man like Mark as something more extreme - desperate, ingratiating, clueless, cunning - but Lloveras does a nice job of letting the audience get to know Mark as a guy whose better side can peek out from how he's a screw-up and a jerk. Lloveras really sells him as a guy just clever enough to get halfway there, and just charming enough that one can see what Mia sees in him.

Sara Casasnovas winds up being his main foil, and she has enough prickly chemistry with Lloveras that it would be nice if Mia were around for more of the movie. One of the ways that it feels like director/co-writer Geoffrey Cowper could get a little more into specifics is making how well Mark and Mia know each other clearer; at times it seems like they just met, while at others they seem to have a history. Similarly, Mark's decision to follow the robbers feels like it could use his thought process explained a little more clearly.

Despite those bumps, Cowper puts together a decent thriller - there are only a few big action scenes were things look stretched, but he makes up for it on the other end, when he can get into the details of just what Mark is trying to do. As small as the stakes may sometimes seem, the ruthlessness of the antagonists helps boost the tension a bit, and there are some clever bits that may be more appreciated by the local Spanish audience: A sequence where Mark gets stopped by the police neatly plays into the classic trope of the cops seeming like a threat to the guy trying to make a not-quite-honest living, while the news reports assuming that the French gangsters are some sort of Eastern European likely plays into local prejudices.

It's pretty good for people making their first feature on a limited budget, and not bad overall if you're looking for a quick bit of crime.

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originally posted: 05/10/15 04:23:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2015 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.

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