An explosive, nearly sociopathic perf by Tom Sizemore anchors tyro helmer Michael D. Olmos’ “Splinter,” an arcane vision of gang warfare as a fragmented nightmare simultaneously dreamt by cops and robbers. Striking cut-out anime titles set the graphic novel-esque tone for this disjointed puzzle as a rookie cop and a homie set out to discover the truth about a series of grisly murders. Highly stylized pic would float away on waves of layered supposition if not for Sizemore’s terrifying on-screen meltdowns. Dark Horse Indie entry seems tailor-made to live up to the studio name, though pic could pique cult interest.
Joey, aka Dreamer (Enrique Almeida), has the bullet that killed his older brother lodged in his own brain, obliterating huge chunks of his memory. As a result, Joey — in a narrative trope reminiscent of “Memento” — can only rely on disturbingly violent flashes to guide him in his search for his brother’s slayer.
He also has no clue who is torturing, then murdering, other members of his gang, and so he half-heartedly tags along with his forceful younger brother Dusty (Noel Gugliemi) and they wreak bloody vengeance on a rival gang.
Meanwhile, rookie cop Gramm (Resmine Atis), fresh from Chicago where she ratted on a crooked colleague, is paired with loose-cannon veteran Cunningham (Sizemore). She receives very mixed signals from about-to-retire captain Garcia (Edward James Olmos, helmer’s father) as to whether she is supposed to root out in-house corruption or diligently cover it up.
The ongoing pile-up of mutilated bodies triggers confused visions in both gangster Dreamer and cop Gramm, implying they may somehow have witnessed or even perpetrated the atrocities.
The abstruse script takes the noir concept of the villain as a dark mirror image of the hero to extremes with all investigations leading back to the investigators and/or an “alter ego” figure.
Ultimately, however, pic delivers more flash than fascination. Helmer Olmos seems more invested in the aesthetic trappings of graphic novel-inspired abstractions than in worked-through narrative tension. In the waking world, there is little in the way of character or story development to meaningful interact with the dream-shuffled death toll, which itself becomes wearisome.
Co-scripter Almeida infuses his Dreamer with a poignant desperation. But Atis’ Gramm, as the newcomer through whose eyes the situation is filtered, is herself too much of a rookie to impose much personality on her “good cop” role.
Sizemore, in contrast, delivers a remarkable, very grounded perf, his unstable character carting around enough emotional baggage to overbalance any scripted symmetry. One has the feeling that his rogue cop figure may have initially been intended to read more ambiguously, closer to Denzel Washington’s Oscar-nabbing role in “Training Day.” But whatever his character lacks in nuance, Sizemore more than makes up for it in animalistic volatility.
Tech credits are fine, though pic may be best remembered for its title sequence, directed and animated by editor Jamieson Fry from illustrations by Danijel Zerelj.