Review: ‘Solo’

Double-dosing on hard-boiled fiction and Oz gangland history, Down Under crimer "Solo" depicts an aging hit man being pushed to take on the legendary last job. Feature bow by helmer-scripter Morgan O'Neill has knockabout charm and dry wit, but is hampered by blind fidelity to overfamiliar and often awkwardly applied genre conventions.

Double-dosing on hard-boiled fiction and Oz gangland history, Down Under crimer “Solo” depicts an aging hit man being pushed to take on the legendary last job. Feature bow by helmer-scripter Morgan O’Neill has knockabout charm and dry wit, but is hampered by blind fidelity to overfamiliar and often awkwardly applied genre conventions. On the strength of solid perfs, particularly by Colin Friels in the central role, the pic’s July release on the Oz arthouse circuit should garner modestly respectable local B.O. Befitting its made-for-TV bankroll, “Solo” will play most comfortably on ancillary.

Film is the product of a version of an Internet script competition set up by LivePlanet and Miramax in 2000. Winning scribe O’Neill, also was chosen to helm, despite a resume confined to minor thesping and directing two shorts. Per contest regulations, the budget was confined to A$1 million($730,000).

Jack Barrett (Friels) is a jazz-loving hitman who can no longer stomach life as a Sydney crime syndicate’s assassin. While trying to sell the tools of his trade in a gun shop, Barrett encounters a young but hard-nosed university student Billie Finn (Bojana Novakovic) who is writing her thesis on local underworld personalities.

Though Barrett brushes her off, Billie persists with her research and succeeds in getting under the skin of several of major crime figures. Accordingly, the gangsters suggest the troublesome researcher become Barrett’s last hit.

Exhibiting an unfathomable affection for Billie, Barrett resists the job and spends much of the yarn playing the unwanted nursemaid to his academic protege and sifting over the broken remnants of his life.

Despite some awkward monologues, a suitably world-weary Friels wears the role of the retiring hit man like a comfortable old coat. Vince Colosimo brings characteristic energy to his portrayal of a cocaine-sniffing policeman, while stalwart Oz vets Chris Haywood and Tony Barry shine in supporting roles as gang bosses.

On the distaff side, relative beginner Novakovic struggles with the poorly written nosey researcher Billie. More experienced actress Angie Milliken is challenged by the cliched limitations of her role as Barrett’s businesslike hooker g.f.

Helming is generally strong, though often overly ambitious. Script is well served by solid perfs, but the yarn fails to hold water. Denouement makes a mockery of much that has gone before. Self-referential lines referring to the hard-boiled genre (paperback not celluloid) only emphasize the pic’s second-hand feel. Tech credits are a solid team effort.

Solo

Australia

Production

A Screentime production, in association with Movie Network. (International sales: Screentime, Sydney.) Produced by Sue Seeary. Executive producers, Sue Milliken, Chris Berry, Bob Campbell, Tony Forrest. Directed, written by Morgan O'Neill.

Crew

Camera (color), Hugh Miller; editor, Marcus D'Arcy; music, Martyn Love, Damian deBoos-Smith; production designer, Murray Picknett; sound, (Dolby Digital), Ben Osmo. Reviewed at Sydney Film Festival, June 10, 2006. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Colin Friels, Bojana Novakovic, Linal Haft, Angie Milliken, Vince Colosimo, Bruce Spence, Chris Haywood, Tony Barry, Bruce Spence.
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