Filmmaker magazine editor/critic Brandon Harris’ debut feature, “Redlegs,” puts its indebtedness to Cassavetes upfront — or rather, in back, spelled out clearly amid the closing acknowledgements — as three protagonists act out a junior version of “Husbands'” epic drunken wake. Sharing screenplay credit with his lead thesps, Harris can (like his late hero) sometimes indulge their improvisational imput to the point where Method becomes mannerism. Nonetheless, this earnest, well-crafted drama is likely to pick up some admirers in niche release, which commenced May 25 with a limited run at Brooklyn’s ReRun Gastropub Theater.
Arriving via Greyhound bus from the Indiana farm he’s retreated to, Marco (Nathan Ramos) is met by Willie (Evan Louison) and Aaron (Andrew Katz), who have remained in Cincinnati. These late-20s white guys are reuniting after the loss of their pal Ricky, beaten to death in a seemingly random, as-yet-unsolved street attack just days earlier.
After attending the funeral, the three guys spend the next 36 hours or so expressing their grief, often taking it out on one another. Boorish rich kid Aaron goes into irrational rages, directed at whoever’s in front of him. Hapless nice guy Willie, a musician, is plagued by guilt; the innocent favor he’d asked placed Ricky in the dangerous neighborhood where he was killed. Marco is a still-waters-run-deep type, though one survivalist rant about coming global disasters doesn’t sufficiently explain why he abandoned his still-smarting friends and family to live off the grid.
Protags progress from beer to blunts to blow (then barfing). They meet women both casually available (Jill Donenfeld as a girl Aaron gets lucky with) and mad as hell (Aimee Cucchiaro as the g.f. Marco abruptly left behind). The introduction of a revolver hastens the journey toward collective catharsis in the hours before Marco is due to leave again.
Though brief, “Redlegs” never feels rushed or slight. Its virtues are much enhanced by Miranda Rhyne’s astute lensing and other well-turned tech/design contributions. Yet its principal figures’ histrionic displays often feel less psychologically organic than reflective of a familiar ersatz realism that trusts truth will emerge if the actors make nearly every moment a wounded-bull “Stellaaaaaaaaah!” display.
Set in Harris’ native Cincinnati, the pic nevertheless screams Noo Yawk with its particular male dramatics, universal only in the sense that they exist within a sphere of acting-calisthenics machismo considered such by many since (and a few before) Cassavetes. Still, the thoughtful overall assembly finally achieves just enough gravitas to make the pic’s economical runtime seem just right.