Technically accomplished but dramatically unconvincing, writer-director Sean Kirkpatrick’s “Cost of a Soul,” recycles the story of a vet traumatized by war who returns home to a world turned upside down. Winner of Rogue and AMC’s Big Break Movie Contest, the pic is being given a 50-theater release, which will enhance the film’s homevid potential, and give future projects by the promising young Philly helmer and his fine team a leg up, providing that next pic has a sharper-honed script with less cliched dialogue.
As is, the emotional elements explored by “Cost of a Soul,” and the devices it employs, seem trite and occasionally shoplifted from better-told tales. “Soul” challenges war vet Tommy (Chris Kerson) to skirt the easy embrace of a criminal life, but plays notes at least as old as “The Public Enemy,” and Fitzpatrick doesn’t add much that hasn’t been done before.
Still, in a deftly handled sequence that tells the tale of from an Iraq war perspective, we see Tommy involved in the torture of an Iraqi civilian, and hear a conclusion — this criminal act “just saved live” one soldier says — that seems like rank rationalization (though it’s not clear the pic intends it that way). Happening upon the bloody scene is another soldier, D.D. Davis (Will Blagrove), who threatens to turn the torturers in. The two will meet again, naturally, Stateside.
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Tommy returns to Philadelphia determined to quit the local Irish capo, Bernie Burns (Gregg Almquist), for whom he worked before joining the Marines (and raising some questions about Marine recruitment policies). But Tommy’s embittered wife, Faith (Judy Jerome), and their handicapped young daughter, Hope (Maddie Morris Jones) have accepted too much help from Bernie during Tommy’s absence for him to ever break free. So he takes the brutalizing experiences he’s had in the service of his country and puts them into the service of a homicidal mob boss a la “The Roaring Twenties.”
The ease with which Tommy becomes a professional killer may be intended as an ironic commentary on the dehumanization of war, in a way the line about torture is not. But it feels more like an expedient way to start ratcheting up the body count.
D.D., too, is from the City of Brotherly love, and has come back to find his older brother, Darnell (Nakia Dillard), dealing drugs, and his younger brother, James (Daveed Ramsay), poised to join the family business. Their mother (Diane M. Johnson) is at the end of her rope and D.D. — who also happens to be a gifted alto saxophonist, so gifted, in fact, that he sounds like a tenor saxophonist — has to start making things right.
The moth-eaten cliches and level of violence and cruelty aren’t effective — still, “Cost of a Soul” manages to hang together quite well as a piece of filmmaking; the editing by Jonathan Risinger is creative, and the cinematography by Chase Bowman is always convincing.
As D.D. and Tommy follow their not-quite-parallel and ultimately intersecting lines through the economic underbelly of Philadelphia the viewer never gets thrown off track.
The acting is a bit tough to swallow at times, largely because of the dialogue the players are obliged to read, but Jerome does a fantastic job as the beleagured wife, and young Maddie Jones is quite a find.