IT WAS THE 2ND WEEK OF high school when I first heard the guitar music filtering into the hallway. I was a freshman and still getting the lay of the land in the large school building, compared to my small elementary school. Making a mental note of my surroundings, I promised myself I would find where the music was coming from. The following week during my study period, I asked for a hall pass and made my way through the school hallways listening for the music. It was faint and unrecognizable, lingering just enough in the air like morning mist to lead me towards it. I soon found myself in an unfamiliar part of the school, in front of a slightly ajar door without a room number. As I slowly pushed the door open the guitar playing stopped. I froze for a moment but decided I could not run away now. Stepping into the room I saw a blonde-haired guy sitting on a desk with one leg crossed over the other and a guitar resting in his lap. He was the first to speak by saying hello to me. I said hi back and told him I had heard the music playing and wanted to find out where it was coming from. He asked if I played an instrument and I told him yes, the piano. From there we started talking all things music, from classical to pop music. HE WAS A SENIOR WHICH TOOK me by surprise because I had heard seniors would not be caught dead talking to lowly freshmen. Music was our connection and I found myself hanging out with him playing music every week, since they did not take attendance in study hall. Having a senior as a friend was fortuitous because it gave me inside access on how to maneuver through the school year. He gave me a rundown of which teachers were cool, what foods to avoid in the lunchroom, what bathrooms were safe to use, among a variety of other tips and warnings. I did not have to go through a typical trial and error period of discovery that was filled with risk, especially for freshman. Little did I know how valuable his info would be for me. My years in high school were traumatic, filled with bullying and abuse; I could only imagine how worse it would have been if I did not know what I already knew due to him. Though we only had one year together in school before he went out of state for college; for all intents and purposes he was a mentor to me, just like the main character in this dramatic crime film. HAVING LOST ALL HIS MONEY, NOT able to even buy a meal John, played by John C. Reilly (Stan & Ollie, The Sisters Brothers), was leery of the stranger who suddenly appeared and offered to buy him a cup of coffee. No one does something for free without wanting something; what did this finely dressed man want with John? With Philip Baker Hall (Boogie Nights, The Last Word) as Sydney, Gwyneth Paltrow (The Avengers franchise, Thanks for Sharing) as Clementine, Samuel L. Jackson (Shaft, The Hateful Eight) as Jimmy and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Hunger Games franchise, The Master) as a young craps player; this film festival winner was filled with a tour de force of acting. The cast was outstanding as they slowly made their way through the script. Seeped in mystery and emotions, I enjoyed the unintentional retro vibe coming off this over 20-year-old film. Due to the authenticity of the dialog, I stayed engaged with the story; a story that seemed familiar to me from other gambling films, yet still had some surprise to it. I can see where young writers would use this film as a teaching tool on how to write real characters.
3 ¼ stars