×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Man From Reno’

Although hardly the equal of its inspirations, Dave Boyle's moody detective yarn makes for a pleasantly mellow, well-structured concoction.

With:
Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna, Kazuki Kitamura, Hiroshi Watanabe, Elisha Skorman, Tetsuo Kuramochi, Derrick O’Connor, Yasuyo Shiba

A bilingual genre two-hander in search of common ground between Haruki Murakami’s low-key alienation and the Coen brothers’ deadpan existentialism, Dave Boyle’s “Man From Reno” is hardly the equal of its inspirations, but it nonetheless makes for a pleasantly mellow, well-structured concoction. Tracing a Japanese mystery author’s strange sojourn into San Francisco, and a small-town sheriff’s pursuit of a possibly connected missing-persons case, the pic prevails largely on mood conjuring a strange sense of coziness with potential danger always flitting around the margins as well as its evocative photography of the misty city by the Bay. Future festival play is probably the best this pic can hope for theatrically (it won the Los Angeles fest’s narrative feature award), but director Boyle and star Ayako Fujitani both make solid cases for bigger projects going forward.

Though it wears its film-noir influences on its sleeve, “Man From Reno” might more accurately be described as film gris. Opening with a scene so foggy it may as well be taking place inside a sulfur cloud, elderly sheriff Paul Del Moral (Pepe Serna) happens upon a suspicious abandoned vehicle in the outskirts of his sleepy Bay Area community. After investigating, he accidentally runs over a battered, smartly dressed man (Hiroshi Watanabe) who materializes out of the haze, knocking him unconscious. The man then disappears from the hospital before he can be questioned.

Meanwhile, up in the marginally less overcast North Beach, successful yet demoralized young author Aki Akahori (Fujitani) has absconded from the book tour for her latest potboiler, creating a stir in the Japanese press, and alighted to San Francisco. Afflicted with a bout of imposter syndrome and needing some mildly depressive downtime, she catches up with old friends and wanders the streets, later approached at a bar by a suave Japanese man (Kazuki Kitamura) with mysterious Nevada connections.

Though she initially rebuffs him, this homme fatal reappears the next day and charms his way into her bedroom. Soon after, he too vanishes, leaving behind a trail of clues — a head of cabbage, a handwritten business card — that gradually draw Aki into the company of some highly unsavory characters.

Aki can be somewhat inexpressive as a protagonist, but she evolves into a nicely dynamic heroine once the plot’s screws start tightening. She’s curious and bold without being reckless, her knack for crafting literary whodunits alternately helping and hindering her hesitant investigations, and she manages to worm her way out of dicey situations in amusingly matter-of-fact ways. (Her response to an intruder trying to undo her door chain is particularly memorable in its obviousness.) Sheriff Paul’s plot strand is a bit less engaging — his relationship with a daughter (Elisha Skorman) following in his footsteps is rather underdeveloped — but when the two leads finally unite, they form a nicely unlikely partnership that brings out the best in both actors.

The film’s central intrigue comes only gradually into view, and it manages to be both outlandishly strange and oddly uninteresting once all the hands have been shown. The film’s numerous visual references to “Chinatown” are a bit on the nose, and some very minor plot holes — more like plot divots — slow momentum here and there. But Boyle keeps the wheels churning nicely for the most part, and the climax ratchets up the pic’s sense of urgency without loosening its bearings.

Boyle displays fine directorial control throughout, staging some handsome horizontal tracking shots with a stately hand, while his script (co-written with Joel Clark and Michael Lerman) makes clever use of the Japanese-English language divide. Cinematographer Richard Wong is the standout in a very strong below-the-line crew, and composer Micah Dahl Anderson uses spare piano and cello to craft a memorably ominous score.

Film Review: 'Man From Reno'

Reviewed at Los Angeles Film Festival (competing), June 18, 2014. Running time: 111 MIN.

Production: An Eleven Arts presentation of a Tiger Industry Films production. Produced by Ko Mori. Executive producers, Nelson Cheng, Fredric Delmais, Ron Eliot, Daryl Furr, Pepe Serna, Emily Ting, Timothy Wenhold, Wade Winningham.

Crew: Directed by Dave Boyle. Screenplay, Boyle, Joel Clark, Michael Lerman. Camera (color), Richard Wong; editors, Sean Gillane, Yasu Inoue; music, Micah Dahl Anderson; production designer, Katy Porter; costume designer, Irene Chan; art directors, Ciara Butler, D.J. Theriot; sound, Keenan Jensen; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Carlos Sanches; casting, Mye Hoang, Satoshi Mashida.

With: Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna, Kazuki Kitamura, Hiroshi Watanabe, Elisha Skorman, Tetsuo Kuramochi, Derrick O’Connor, Yasuyo Shiba

More Film

  • Aquaman 2018

    'Aquaman' Crosses $250 Million at Foreign Box Office

    Things are going swimmingly at the box office for “Aquaman” as the Warner Bros.’ superhero flick hits another major milestone overseas. James Wan’s take on the ruler of the seven seas just passed $250 million internationally, and a weekend haul of $126.4 million from 43 territories brings its foreign tally to $261.3 million. “Aquaman” — [...]

  • Mortal Engines

    'Mortal Engines' to Lose More Than $100 Million at Box Office

    “Mortal Engines,” a steampunk fantasy adventure, is also an epic flop. With a budget of just over $100 million and tens of millions in global marketing costs, executives at rival studios estimate that the movie will lose upwards of $100 million. Some even project that number could float to more than $125 million. “Mortal Engines” [...]

  • Thierry Frémaux, José Luis Rebordinos Honored

    Thierry Frémaux, José Luis Rebordinos Named Honorary Argentine Academy Members

    BUENOS AIRES — In a ceremony just before Friday’s prize announcements at Ventana Sur, Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux and José Luis Rebordinos, director of the San Sebastian Festival, were named honorary members of Argentina’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in a new move for the Academy, out through by its new president, Bernardo [...]

  • Nona

    Film Review: 'Nona'

    Twenty years and 12 features down the line, it’s still hard to peg the directorial sensibility of Michael Polish, with or without the presence of brother Mark as frequent co-writer and actor. His output has been all over the place, from early Lynchian quirkfests to the very middle-of-the-road inspirational dramedy “The Astronaut Farmer,” not to [...]

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Wins for Best Film, Director at European Film Awards

    “Cold War,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s black-and-white romance set in the 1950s, scooped the prizes for best film, director and screenplay at the 31st edition of the European Film Awards on Saturday. “Cold War” star Joanna Kulig also won the award for best actress. Marcello Fonte, the star of Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” won for best actor. More Reviews [...]

  • The Favourite Bohemian Rapsody Star is

    The Best Movie Scenes of 2018

    When we think back on a movie that transported us, we often focus on a great scene — or maybe the greatest scene — in it. It’s natural. Those scenes are more than just defining. They can be the moment that lifts a movie into the stratosphere, that takes it to the higher reaches of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content