Combining iconic elements in an exhilarating way that revitalizes the crime thriller genre, the tightly plotted “40” marks Turkish-American multihyphenate Emre Sahin as a talent to watch. Grounded in the gritty realism of Istanbul’s chaotic metropolis and fraught with the aspirations and frustrations of migrants both legal and otherwise, the pic cleverly riffs on notions of kismet (be it cursed fate, numerology or the hand of God) as three strangers cross paths to obtain a bag of ill-gotten cash. Festival outings could segue to niche theatrical in some markets, with more opportunities in ancillary.
The narrative begins with a literal bang as a speeding taxi sends a pedestrian flying. The set-up portion of the story then flashes back to show events leading up to the hit-and-run.
It turns out that the cabbie, whining loser Metin (an intense, sometimes blackly comic Ali Atay), is an errand boy for the mob, who carelessly lets a bag full of his boss’s money out of his sight. Meanwhile, a slight tremor of the earth causes said bag to fall like manna from heaven at the feet of observant Christian Godwill (dignified Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), an illegal immigrant from Nigeria who was just robbed of his savings. When the hit-and-run sends Godwill unconscious to the hospital, beautiful nurse Sevda (Deniz Cakir, deliciously duplicitous) seizes the bag — and her chance to escape from an unhappy marriage.
Allowing each of the three leads to recount their personal story in playfully stylized flashback, helmer-writer Sahin adds depth to the plot, builds a stronger connection to the characters and lays the groundwork for an increasingly tense and ironic denouement. Although the storyline is indisputably Turkish, it’s also universal enough to inspire remakes almost anywhere.
Sahin (who nabbed newcomer honors at the Antalya fest) honed his skills as a director and editor for television networks including MTV, FX, National Geographic, the Travel Channel and Discovery, and these diverse influences show in “40’s” confident visuals, bold cutting and eclectic music.
Shooting in widescreen with a Red One camera, lenser Clint Lealos also displays polish and panache. Tightly framed handheld shots revealing the characters trapped in their environments alternate with striking scenes of Istanbul landscapes and street life.
Also worthy of note within the sharp production package are the animated, watercolor wash opening credits showing Istanbul crowd scenes.