SXSW review: ‘Things People Do’
If we start stumbling down a dark path, is there a way off? Or can it take us to where we need to be?
In Saar Klein’s directorial debut, “Things People Do,” Bill Scanlin (Wes Bentley) is a likeable family man who loses his job in the insurance industry in part because he’s too honest. Despite his happy home life, complete with a lovely wife, Susan (Vinessa Shaw), his two sons and a pool (which he perhaps unwisely took out a loan to build in the middle of the drought), he keeps his unemployment a secret from Susan.
Out of financial desperation, he inadvertently begins a string of hold-ups, even as he forms a strong friendship with a police detective, Frank (Jason Isaacs). Bill finds an unlikely touchstone in Frank, who is on the other side of Bill’s fears – Frank lost wife and his son because of a decision he strongly regrets, lives in a partly furnished apartment and likes to take his drink at a bowling alley. In fact, at heart, this movie is a buddy flick, albeit a dark one. Frank understands Bill and doesn’t want him to end up in the same lonely place.
Klein, who co-wrote the script with Joe Conway, worked on this film for seven years. There’s a natural comparison to be made to “Breaking Bad,” from the economic desperation behind Bill’s crimes and Bill’s friendship with the one person who is supposed to put him away, a la Walt and Hank. It’s even set in Albuquerque, N.M. But the film takes a more poetic approach to questions of goodness and honesty, right and wrong.
Bentley and Isaacs are perfectly cast, and Shaw, who was so captivating in “Siren” at the Austin Film Festival last year, is mesmerizing as Susan. Actress Haley Bennett has a small but scene-stealing role as a sympathetic gas station employee who gives Bill a break.
Klein is a two-time Oscar nominee for editing for “Almost Famous” and Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line.” Although the movie builds on tension, it takes long pauses that add depth and beauty in unexpected places, an influence perhaps of Klein’s longtime collaboration with Malick.
At the North American premiere of “Things People Do” Friday night at the Violet Crown, Klein told the audience that directing his first full-length feature was “like running around in the street naked.” The movie, which was co-produced by Austin’s Sarah Green, was presented by Louis Black, co-founder of SXSW and the Austin Chronicle.
“Things People Do” screens again 6:45 p.m. at the Marchesa and at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Alamo Village.