Indie films come with their own set of limitations and issues. Budgets for one are always constrained, finding good technicians could be a challenge; actors are raw and fresh, so on and so forth. Yet, the real thrill one gets out of making a film is to make the best out of all these problems and come out with something sincere and good. Wish it were as easy though too actually make things fall in place like they did in the previous sentence. A Public Ransom is yet another example of how it takes a lot to make an indie film work.
An amoral selfish averagely talented author Steven (Caryle Edwards) comes across a missing child ad that triggers in him an idea of a story. He calls the number on the ad leading him to meet Byrant (Goodloe Bryan) a man claiming to be a kidnapper who asks Steven to pay up a ransom of 2000 dollars in two weeks to free a girl he has kidnapped. What Steven initially disregards as a morbid joke he fell into turns into a nightmare when Byrant starts appearing in his life more frequently and intrusively even befriending his girlfriend Rene (Helen Bonaparte). Is the girl freed? Does Steven get his idea for a book? These are some of the questions the film shot mostly in found footage genre’s black and white tones tries to answer. Ineffectively so if I must add.
Visually, the film is interesting. Reminding one of the films of Fassbinder ( stationary camera while the actors move about acting), the story is meant to slowly pull you into its psychologically disturbing premise to the point of no return where every character comes across as equally self-serving and weird. A few minutes into the film though, this promise is belied as the film begins to unravel and expose handicaps that the makers had in executing the enterprise.
For starters, a lot of characters in the film are only heard, though phone conversations. This is a trope often used on stage as well, where actors and budgets to pay them are in short supply. Per se this is not a mistake, but what irks is the fact that repeatedly one is made to see the actors on a phone talking. To the point that it almost looks like the film was sponsored by some handset maker. Wouldn’t the conversations worked better as voices overlaying scenes that progressed the story further? May be, maybe not. One wouldn’t know until tried.
Then there is the text heaviness of the entire film. Lines and lines of dialogues are spoken in a film where very little physical happens and too much is spoken for its own good. Initially clever, at times a little witty, the dialogues end up burdened, delivered with equal unease by the actors, making one wish the film were silent and could get on with its point faster. Especially when nothing much is actually added to by them.
For most part of the film, we can hardly decipher the faces of the three actors, only left to hearing what they are saying- hearing and not listening because the amount they talk, one has already switched off from the proceedings well into the film. The core story idea of a kidnapping, a ransom, the hint of a murder here, the idea of a suicide there, things are randomly hurled up in the air with not one loose end tied up neatly towards the climax. Why does one then wait to reach the end? Not sure why I did; mostly cause there was a flicker of a hope that somewhere in the end the film would make sense as a total product. That hope was belied and how.
There are many limitations when one sets out to make an indie film. Budgets, technicians, time etc. etc. . . . What should not be a limitation however is a solid script and story? A Public Ransom suffers mostly due to this. Watch it only if you really dig indie films.