"If I Didn't Care" is a stylistic exercise in elegant gratuitousness.
Noir, reduced to its ’40s-derived generic trappings without the requisite context, can be a tricky proposition. Take, for instance, the sophomore outing of the brothers Cummings, in which carefully updated tropes and gender reversals mimic those of a “Double Indemnity”-type thriller, but without any interior logic. Featuring a strong central perf by Bill Sage, a raincoated detective turn by Roy Scheider and the upscale autumnal serenity of the Hamptons, “If I Didn’t Care” remains a stylistic exercise in elegant gratuitousness. Film opened Aug. 3 at Gotham’s Village East Cinema, but few will likely care.
Filmmakers lay out their characters fairly baldly, none of them particularly complex or especially likable, though Davis (Sage) exudes a certain lazy charm. Married to a rich, powerful lawyer, Janice (Noelle Beck), who toils all week in the city while he house sits their palatial digs in Southampton, Davis dabbles in real estate (what else?) to give himself the illusion of purpose, wiling the time away walking his dog on the beach, drinking all night and screwing his colleague Hadley (Susie Misner) on the side.
The Cummings’ script unsubtly adopts recognizable noir tropes and systematically reverses gender roles. Thus, the women are the movers and shakers, while the men on the island exert their power passively, like glorified beach bums (even police detective Scheider spends most of his time roaming the shore with a dog named Schopenhauer). When Davis and Hadley decide to kill Janice, it’s incumbent upon gal Hadley to buy the gun and pull the trigger. Davis’ job is to unscrew a light bulb.
Sage makes the most of his character’s languid spiral into escalating criminality. Indeed, his go-with-the-flow openness carries as much potential for good as evil. According to the pic’s explicit moral, courtesy of Schopenhauer (the philosopher, not the dog), problems arise when people want things they cannot have. Duh.
Aside from Sage, the most compelling presence in the film is the neighborhood real estate. The Hamptons’ historical quaintness and bone-deep affluence determine each shot, and every composition bespeaks Davis’ existential dependence on his tony surroundings. Thus, the arrival of working-class avengers is signaled by a pointed low-angle on their comparatively crass Lincoln Continental.
Tech credits are fine, Brian Pryzpek’s crisp, atmospheric lensing and Michael Tremonte’s obsessive score lending noirish bonafides to the pic’s otherwise undercooked execution.