A compulsive gambler grapples with the big shadow cast by his sickly father in “Solid Air,” a moody, arty-noir drama set in modern Glasgow. Strongly cast with Scottish actors, pic could have a tiny career in upscale venues if tightened by some 20 minutes and carefully nursed first on the festival circuit.
Along with “16 Years of Alcohol” — also transferred from hi-def to 35mm in the impressive new widescreen process dubbed “Digitalscope” — “Solid Air” was the best of the British low-budgeters at the recent Edinburgh fest. It more than fulfils the potential shown by Glaswegian writer-director May Miles Thomas in her B&W, shoestring DV feature, “One Life Stand,” premiered at the same fest in ’00.
On the surface, “Solid Air” falls into the category of “issue-based drama,” with its through-story of Robert Houston (Brian McCardie) pursuing a lapsed compensation claim by his father (Maurice Roeves) for asbestosis. However, though much of the film’s middle section is taken up with Robert visiting other such victims and trying to secure their help as witnesses, the film, to its credit, is more character than issue based.
The twist to the story is that Robert is pursuing the claim not out of any great love for his estranged father but because he’s in the hole for £20,000 ($30,000) to local casino owner John Doran (Gary Lewis). And to get his hands on the money, Robert is forced to deal with a young, by-the-book lawyer, Nicola Blyth (Kathy Kiera Clarke), who’s not about to ruin her career on Robert’s behalf.
Cutting back a lot of the witness material, and tightening the whole of the midsection, would strengthen the movie, since most of the dramatic meat is in the final two reels. At the end of the day, all the particulars of industrial injury and corporate wrongdoing are a distraction from the main conflict — between Robert and Doran, and refereed by Robert’s father.
Film is played out as a series of conversation pieces — in Robert’s apartment, the lawyer’s offices, victims’ homes, and so on. Despite the leisurely pacing, it’s made watchable by Neville Kidd’s widescreen lensing — all bleached colors and chiaroscuro lighting — and the key perfs, which have a contained intensity.
McCardie and Clarke generate interesting, marginally sexual chemistry as the shaggy-haired Robert and lip-gloss lawyer, while veteran Roeves brings a wry dignity to the role of the father. But it’s Lewis, oozing malevolent power as the casino owner, who animates the drama and gives the movie a punch in the final reels.