Following a night of short films and a video installation "Green|Red" displayed under the Manhattan Bridge, Scene:Brooklyn took over Dumbo's reRun Gastropub Theater for a special preview screening of Brandon Harris' "Redlegs," a feature following a trio of childhood friends brought together after the murder of another chum. Harris, a regular editor/critic for Filmmaker Magazine and occasional cohort of The Playlist (here he chats with the eternal New Yorker Abel Ferrara), raised the appropriate funds on Kickstarter and ventured to his stomping grounds of Cincinnati to create his debut comedy-drama.
Ohio homebodies Aaron and Wilbur meet Marco, someone they've been out of touch with for a substantial amount of time, at the train station en route to the recently deceased Ricky's funeral processions. It's revealed that Marco had abruptly quit urban life to get his hands dirty in the country, a decision that still stings those he had abandoned (namely, aside from the two buddies, his ex-girlfriend). As the three attempt to reconnect through booze, drugs, and baseball, they find themselves battling over most issues, including how to properly mourn and remember the pal so quickly taken from them. Their high emotions come to a head in the parking lot of the Great American Ball Park (the stadium for the Cincinnati Reds), where they're finally forced to evaluate what their friendships mean.
"Redlegs" is as much about directionless, confused young adults and class/race as it is about the city itself, with the filmmaker fixing a keen eye on the environment that houses his characters. But apparently setting the flick in his hometown wasn't part of the original plan. "Initially we conceived this to be in New York City, but we were having housing problems and eventually I decided it would be better in Ohio," Harris explained in during the post-screening Q&A. "The change certainly shifted things, in terms of what we could and couldn't do, the linchpin of the story… race and class weren't as much of an element before we set it in Cincinnati just because it's a town that's fraught with these issues." Still, its birth as an NY film gave it some innate qualities, with one member of the audience likening it to Martin Scorsese's gritty-city "Mean Streets."
With a light narrative thread and a general conversational nature, "Redlegs" easily fits into the micro-budget treehouse of Cassavetes obsessives, though not to its detriment — the aesthetic choice enables the filmmaker to focus on quite a number of deep, ugly moments that'd likely be overshadowed by a more intricate plot. Harris acknowledges this influence, naming "Husbands" as a template while also citing the original "Bad Lieutenant" as a jump-off point. "Those films are both important to what we were trying to do. Not just in a 'men behaving badly' kind of way, but 'Lieutenant' is about someone carrying guilt, and 'Husbands' concerns guys trying to find a way to deal with the existential dread that people of your generation will die. They definitely informed where things we going to go." You can also see some early Mike Nichols lurking within, showing the director as someone who can cull engaging, slice-of-life conversation from his actors without getting bogged down by forced dialogue.
Though firmly rooted in realism, the filmmaker hoped that the "death of a friend" aspect wouldn't be taken too literally and spoke of its other possible meanings. "I think that the loss is as much about losing a certain kind of camaraderie with people that are close to you as it is about losing a friend, or losing a certain notion of what home is," he mentioned. Given every character's reluctance to deal with all of the components of the real world (and their subsequent responsibilities), it could even be read as the loss of innocence. The trio kicks and scream throughout the movie, and while it doesn't come to a tidy conclusion, it feels apparent that they're finally ready to acknowledge that their lives are changing.
"Redlegs" opens in New York on May 25th. Trailer below.