A three-hander centering on Tim Roth at his subtle best, “No Way Home” starts out solidly but stumbles in the final quarter. Good reviews for its fine cast and gritty look could help this one reach indie-minded auds, but material is both too bleak and too familiar to spark much mainstream interest.
Roth, sporting buzz-cut, white T-shirt, and mumbling New Yawk accent, plays Joey, an ex-con who, fresh from the pen, returns to his family home on Staten Island, only to find that his mother has died and his older brother, Tommy (James Russo), has married a tough, suspicious woman. Blonde, chain-smoking Lorraine (Deborah Unger), a part-time stripper, is none too pleased about the sudden, sullen appearance of her hubby’s troubled bro, but it doesn’t take her – or the viewer – long to figure out who the bad sibling really is.
In fact, the new parolee is home only a day before Tommy drags him along on a pot-selling run. Joey freaks (very quietly) when he figures out the score, but he has nowhere else to go, and there’s also some unfinished business with a girlfriend (Catherine Kellner) he had hoped would wait for him.
She didn’t – judging from those baby strollers – but, in one of the pic’s tensest scenes, she does manage to clue him in as to how the neighborhood views the brothers and their destructive relationship. Meanwhile, Lorraine – who calls Joey an “enigma,” to his uneducated amazement – starts warming to the undemanding fellow. It turns out that he was quite a sharp kid until a youthful “accident” dented his head and left him a little slow on the uptake. This never hindered his talent for drawing, or listening, however, and it soon becomes apparent that he’s too gentle a soul to have committed any crime alone.
Elsewhere, Tommy’s getting into deep doo-doo with a mob loan shark (Joseph Ragno), and some knee-breaking goons inevitably make a house call. And – wouldn’t you know it? – they pick the very same night Joey’s parole officer decides to make his first unscheduled visit. Some unfortunate events ensue, but Lorraine and Joey return for only the tail end of the nastiness – which is just in time for an apocalyptic showdown between the brothers, aided by various trigger-happy cops and gangsters.
Fiery finish is satisfying dramatically, but it comes as a too-pat capper to what has mostly been a naturalistic character study. The bigger problem is that, by the end, the pic has turned Roth’s moody protag into a plaster saint, one who slouches in pain or soulfully mouths muted platitudes while the unhappy marrieds snap at each other. This three-way dynamic grows repetitive, and helmer-scripter Buddy Giovinazzo, in his second feature outing, resorts to violent externals to goose things along, robbing the tale of its distinctiveness. Claudia Raschke’s cool lensing, which makes expert use of natural light, helps keep things interesting, and the players – particularly Unger, whose character has the biggest arc – consistently rise above the cliches in their speech. Bluesy score and smart editing help create a consistent mood.
Plotwise, pic mixes milieu of the recent “Kiss of Death” with echoes of “On the Waterfront.” Not as slickly commercial as the former nor as memorably profound as the latter, “No Way Home” is likely to get lost by indie distribs, although Roth’s name and Unger’s rising star should make for reasonable vid-store visitation.