Review: ‘Desolation Angels’

Entirely an account of the numerous unthinking ways a young working-class man deals with his girlfriend's infidelity, "Desolation Angels" comes across as equal parts autobiographical working-out of emotional problems and critique of enraged and vengeful machismo.

Entirely an account of the numerous unthinking ways a young working-class man deals with his girlfriend’s infidelity, “Desolation Angels” comes across as equal parts autobiographical working-out of emotional problems and critique of enraged and vengeful machismo. Rather engaging in a somewhat morbid way and not without talent, debutfeature by Tim McCann remains a limited achievement due to its fairly tedious concentration on a single emotional state and the frequently stupid and offputting behavior of its immature characters. Fests and specialized venues receptive to American indies should bite, and McCann bears watching in future, but commercial prospects for this New York ultra-low-budgeter are a real long shot.

McCann attended SUNY-Purchase with such other future Gotham helmers as Hal Hartley, Nick Gomez and Bob Gosse, and displays the same sort of resourcefulness in helming a solidly crafted, emotionally pungent picture with believable characters playing out their problems in a real milieu that feels utterly unaltered for dramatic purposes.

Nick Adams (Michael Rodrick), a sullenly intense fellow in his 20s, returns to New York after a month away to find his girlfriend, Mary (Jennifer Thomas), behaving weirdly. Mary soon reveals that, during Nick’s absence, their friend Sid (Peter Bassett), a callow, narcissistic ladies’ man, made a pass at her.

Despite Mary’s insistence that nothing more happened, Nick’s suspicions are aroused, and he runs around the neighborhood quizzing friends about what they believe happened. Finally, a half-hour in, Mary admits that she and Sid actually had sex. Unhinged by the news but not believing that Mary would have done this of her own accord, Nick decides to interpret the act as rape and goes after Sid in a fit of machorage.

Nick’s first idiotic act is to attack the lanky Sid when the latter is accompanied by a tough bodyguard buddy, who promptly beats up Nick. Nick then hires a couple of thugs from the Bronx to teach Sid a lesson he won’t forget, but they get the wrong guy, thrashing Nick’s bumbling, sweet-natured roommate Ralph (Shannon Gold) instead.

More incensed than ever, Nick needs to take matters into his own hands, but in doing so drives Mary away from him and wreaks havoc on the balance of relationships among the old neighborhood circle of friends. Action climax is deliberately stripped of its cathartic potential by McCann’s intercutting of events and use of jarring music, and one can only wonder how much these seriously self-involved characters, who can see no further than their own egos, learn from the emotional gauntlet they run.

Incessant attention to Nick’s wounded pride and groping attempts to get back at Sid give pic a solipsistic air that becomes tiresome. McCann’s extended scenes give the characters plenty of time to develop, but approach reaches a point of diminishing returns when it becomes clear how little there is to them; all they have is raw emotion, with no other interesting dimensions. A pathetic struggling actor, Sid comes off as nothing but a cad, while the mopey Mary hardly seems worthy of Nick’s tortured exertions.

Still, McCann invests the bruising story with basic credibility that gets it through, even if one often wants Nick to cut his losses and say the hell with all these dopes he thought were his friends. Goodlooking and camera-friendly, Rodrick holds the screen nicely and would look to have a promising future. All other perfs are solid, with nearly everyone believably up from the streets, although what Quentin Crisp is doing here as an outer-borough derelict is anyone’s guess.

Pic was reportedly brought in for $ 25,000, and blowup from 16mm to 35mm is excellent. Name of the lead character bears no significance to the well-known Hemingway character.

Desolation Angels

Production

A McCann & Co. presentation. Produced by Tim McCann, Steve Olivieri, (International sales: In Pictures, New York.) Directed, written, edited by Tim McCann.

Crew

Camera (DuArt color, 16-to-35mm blowup). Matthew Howe; art direction, Larry O'Neil; set design, Robert Bryson; costume design, Marianne Powell-Parker; sound, Eric Susch; associate producer, Sean McCann; assistant director, Steve Olivieri. Reviewed at Telluride Film Festival, Sept. 3, 1995. (Also in Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Nick Adams - Michael Rodrick
Mary - Jennifer Thomas
Sid - Peter Bassett
Ralph - Shannon Gold
Hank - Mike Alpert
Donna - Cheryl Clifford
Sarah - Linda Moran
Otis - Frank Olivier
Begger - Quentin Crisp
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