Some time ago, writer and director J. R. Poli sent us his short film Marcus to review. Well we are delighted to say that the short was turned into a feature and J.R. sent us that to review as well!
Marcus is movie about redemption and battling with inner demons, and while that’s nothing new to back this up this movie is a cast who act with such sincerity and that you can’t help but be drawn in.
Marcus is a slow-burner, though there’s rarely a relief from the emotion and turmoil our characters face. What the entire movie hinges on is the ability of the actors to convey deep emotions and Owen Miller (“Marcus (Short)”, “Burn Notice (TV)”), who plays Marcus, was more than up to the task.
From the outset the movie builds Marcus to be a quiet, world weary character, like many is worn down by the circumstance and finds himself taking his frustrations out on those around him, especially those young enough to still have dreams.
The opening scenes introduces us to his job (a cleaner in a bank) and his life alone in a run down motel looking building. In the early stages of the film Marcus spends a large portion of his time looking off camera or locked deep in thought, these aren’t long awkward scenes though, they’re one that need to (and do) convey a message but without the aid of dialogue.
The writer and director J.R. Poli (“Marcus (Short)”, “Never Forget (Short)”) has done well to not reveal everything in Marcus too quickly so as the story progresses you slowly start to discover more though in truth there’s never really a big reveal.
Despite his job, Marcus is low on money and goes around the neighborhood trying to get odd jobs. He eye’s up the security guards pistol at the bank where he works and the directors are happy to allow you to form your own conclusions about what that’s for: sitting in the car he argues with two other men, at first you think it might be a bank job but then when another Marcus gets in the car you start to realise he’s talking with himself and what he’s really contemplating is suicide. Like many people on the brink the loudest voice is that of his critic – urging him on.
Discovering his daughter, Gaby, is pregnant and remembering something she once said to him Marcus decides ‘not today’ and makes a long road trip to see her again after 7 years. And so his attempt at redemption begins but before long he realises walking back into his old life isn’t going to be as easy as he thought. Although he’s welcomed into dinner by Matt, Todd Bruno (“Storm Cell”, “Palace”) an old friend, the wife Becka doesn’t seem particularly welcoming. Marcus isn’t angry or aggressive, he’s just trying to make amends and it isn’t hard to empathise with him, although unlike the other characters we don’t know what it is he’s done.
As he’s about to leave Matt’s house Marcus suddenly opens up about his struggles – it doesn’t come across as attention seeking but an attempt to put forward his own sort of defence. It’s a touching scene told by Marcus not with bitterness but with sad resignation.
Other than his acting though, Owen has a deep & rich voice that’s perfect for this role – it draws you up and if he were a storyteller I would listen to him for hours.
Despite the objections of Becka, Matt tells Marcus he’ll be able to find Gaby playing a few sets at a local dive and so he heads over there. The introduction of Gaby is quite remarkable; a duo sits on stage, warm light bathing Gaby but what’s most impressive is that Katana Malone (“To Each His Own”, “Bleu”) can really sing, her voice has so much soul to it and it fits the scene perfectly as Marcus goes through all the fresh emotions of seeing his daughter again.
Usually in films when the cast start singing I openly groan and reach for the mute but in Marcus I actually wish we got to see, or at least hear, more of Malone’s singing.
Anyway, Gaby doesn’t exactly give Marcus a warm welcome, at this stage you are yet to find out what he did but you can’t help but have sympathy for him. Refused entry to her house he waits, and waits, and waits until eventually the police turn up and Gaby comes to the rescue. It’s refreshing though that the movie didn’t portray the police in the usual bombastic or racist way
Slowly Gaby allows Marcus back into her life and you gradually learn about what she’s gone through during his absent 7 years – it’s a good reminder to him (and the viewer I suppose) that even while he locks himself away in his own mind the rest of the world keeps turning.
It’s not all plain sailing for Gaby either though and during a standard pregnancy checkup Marcus learns about the risk to Gaby’s health. He’s been out of the picture for 7 years but only now does it start to dawn on him how little he really knows.
There’s a bathroom scene shortly afterwards where Marcus runs through the emotions of grief and tries to come to terms with Gaby’s illness. Throughout the movie Miller acts his heart out, his teary-eyed self restraint at times is heart wrenching but the bathroom scene is the one part of the film that doesn’t serve his acting; he too quickly goes from anger to crying to brave.
Once you get that he’s mainly talking to himself the other actors of his psyche disappear and while Miller does a reasonable job of convincingly holding conversations without them there, I feel like the scenes end up missing something.
When the end of the movie comes it leaves you with an open wound and although you could guess what would happen the last scene creeps up on you unexpectedly. That final shot as it closes out is a piece of magic and despite questions still looming it feels oddly complete.
In the end Marcus is a story about loss and being trapped in your own world, making mistakes you don’t know are mistakes until you’ve made them and then trying to make up for them. It’s a film for everyone who’s battled with life’s disappointments, not just single parents or divorcees, the sentiment of the film is redemption and it’s true for all walks of life.