Curious hybrid reps some of the best work yet for its two horn-locking leads, Denis Leary and Hope Davis as, respectively, a wisecracking mental patient and the straitlaced young doctor in charge of his case. Just what that case is, exactly, leads to an odd twist in the story, and to a marketing challenge for distribbers who might otherwise be happy to hype “Final” on strength of its cast, and as a strong debut for Campbell Scott’s solo helming skills. Vid origins (part of a flagship series from experimental InDigEnt) create intriguingly disorienting look, and also suggest that after some lively fest rounds, cable may be natural home for pic, which might play out best with captive auds.
Leary is in top form as Bill Tyler, an unusually articulate and very angry inmate at a New England facility for the criminally crazy. A musician with a drinking problem, Bill isn’t quite sure why he’s there, except for his hazy, flashback memories of almost doing himself in at a local quarry. He’s sure, though, that he was cryogenically frozen in the past, and that doctors will soon finish him off with a lethal injection — hence the pic’s ominous title.
Unflappable doctor Ann Johnson (Davis) listens patiently to his rants and tries to assuage his anxiety. Trouble is, no matter how far-fetched or muddled up his theories are, they gradually begin to make sense, thanks to Leary’s stream-of-consciousness delivery, which makes Bruce McIntosh’s script — well-honed after years as a successful touring play — sound like a string of extra-sharp ad libs. The way it plays, Bill’s view of the world and himself is, in a way, too charmingly clear-eyed for his keeper to ignore.
And they catch up the viewers, too, when halfway into the essentially two-handed tale, it’s suddenly revealed that Bill’s paranoia isn’t delusional. Turns out, it really is the future, and an increasing number of thesps must shift away from character-driven dramedy into sci-fi-tinged social commentary. They do this quite well, and pic makes the most of a tiny budget spent on a 17-day shoot.
Some auds may balk at such a seismic jolt, which presents a huge marketing challenge, since to be warned about the story’s bifurcated nature is to ruin the second half for those who enjoy the cerebral puzzle it represents. But to avoid this hook is also throwing away its only hint of commerciality. Scott’s unobtrusive hand, which only gets visually manipulative once all the elements are safely in place, certainly suggests a disdain for hyped-up entertainment. He lets the camera linger on Davis’ face, which rewards attention with the smallest details, and prompts Leary to show the kind of emotional depth his sarcastic nature usually belies.
Tech work, largely coming from the same team that constructed Scott’s much-different “Hamlet,” is all thoughtfully applied, utilizing digital tools that are well tuned to the slightly futuristic subject matter. Results are disturbing without being at all unpleasant, with general tone nicely shaded by score from modern bluesman Guy Davis, who helps ground the pic’s big ideas, and appears in one nightclub scene. The playwright also shows up as a scientist jealous of the time his pretty blonde colleague is spending with a nutjob from the 20th century. And who can blame him?