An overheated family crisis is well handled in “Five Years,” which nabbed the best feature award at this year’s Victoria fest. First-time director Brett Wagner is very good with the talent here: That helps compensate for his script, which alternates between the vague and the overly explicit. Pic, which will have limited fest appeal, makes good use of tight resources in offbeat Ohio locations and serves best as a calling card for Wagner and his understated cast.
Predicament centers on Colson Unger (Todd Swenson), getting out of prison when the titular term expires. The rangy, buzz-cut lad did a nickel for the drug-related death of a dealer in a bad part of Cleveland. His parole dictates that he must remain under the guidance of older brother Eric (Tim Altmeyer, resembling a less-defined Campbell Scott), a successful building contractor and overbearing husband to Renee (dark-eyed, smart-browed Kris Karr). She’s understandably fearful about this wild card getting plunked in their suburban bliss.
Eric is ready to forgive his kid bro everything — maybe a little too ready, as becomes evident in Eric’s increasingly nervous ramblings about the violent episode. In fact, his off-the-cuff meeting with a local smack handler and somewhat disjointed recollections of the stabbing death eventually make the viewer, and secretly pregnant Renee, begin to wonder if police got the right man.
A parallel, and less developed, story involves Renee’s ne’er-do-well brother (Michael Buscemi, sibling to Steve), fallen on hard times since getting dumped by a female pilot he’s still pining for. Colson, meanwhile, keeps slipping off the leash to head back to the scene of the crime, but that’s actually because he’s looking for the sensitive daughter (Cathy Doe) of the dead dealer.
These threads ultimately tie together, united by something that connects back to the Unger boys’ own brutal drunk of a father (Byron West), although this family history remains sketchy, as does any sense of the characters’ interests and talents outside of the problems at hand.
Plain lensing is appropriate to story and locale, but guitar-based score chatters a bit too incessantly. Pulpy finish is satisfying dramatically, and it is given unearned depth through presence of the cast standouts — soulful Swenson and appealing Karr.