Writer-director Dito Montiel and his go-to leading man Channing Tatum return to Sundance with the underwhelming crime drama "The Son of No One," a narrative mess predicated on a fairly predictable central mystery.
Like Montiel's excellent 2006 debut, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," the story flashes back and forth — in this case, between 1986 and 2002.
Tatum stars as Jonathan White, aka Milk, who as a young boy (Jake Cherry) growing up in the Queensboro Projects kills two people in tense situations that almost qualify (but not quite) as self-defense. His crimes are covered up by his best friend Vinnie (Brian Gilbert) and a neighbor named Vicky (Simone Joy Jones), who is conspicuously absent from the 2002 timeline.
Al Pacino co-stars as a veteran cop who was partners with Tatum's father back in the day. He always suspected Jonathan of the murders, but he closes the cases in order to protect the boy, who he considers "family." Besides, no one cares about the two people Milk killed … that is until a concerned citizen stars writing mysterious letters to a local reporter (Juliette Binoche, classing up Queens … and journalists) who is looking to make a name for herself with the unsolved case.
Katie Holmes plays Tatum's wife, and at some point in nearly every one of her scenes, there was audible laughter at the Press & Industry screening I attended on Monday. Holmes has a thankless role and the script does her no favors, especially when she's asked to curse convincingly. I grew up watching Holmes on "Dawson Creek" in a role that seemed tailor-made for her talents. She can be good when she's used properly, as in Doug Liman's "Go," but in general, the actress seems to stand out for the wrong reasons on the big screen.
Ray Liotta makes for a menacing NYPD superior, although a threatening phone call that Holmes receives halfway through the film is ruined by the actor's recognizable voice.
Up-and-coming character actor James Ransone (HBO's "The Wire") co-stars as Tatum's partner, while Tracy Morgan sticks out like a sore thumb when he enters the picture at its midpoint playing the emotionally disturbed, grown-up version of Vinnie.
I was initially on board with "Son of No One," waiting to see where the story would lead. I like how Montiel introduces Jonathan's family, but because they're never really put into any serious danger, the trouble he goes to early on seems rather pointless.
Like "Saints," the film is most compelling when it flashes back and follows the kids in '86. That's largely due to Cherry and Gilbert's performances, both of which are better than their older counterparts.
I was one of Tatum's early supporters after being struck by his ferocious debut in "Saints," and I still feel he's a better actor than he typically gets credit for, but here he's betrayed by Montiel, whose script gives him very little to do beside run around piecing the clues together several steps behind the audience.
Still, it wasn't until "Son of No One's" final 10 minutes that the film completely derailed. Montiel employs some truly baffling editorial choices that rob the climax of all tension and momentum. It's one of the worst endings I've ever seen, and while it's possible that it can be fixed, the overall story still feels undercooked.
Montiel has assembled a strong cast for "Son of No One," but unfortunately they're stuck in an increasingly implausible film that gets worse as it stumbles towards it's ludicrous conclusion. With this much star power, there's no doubt that the movie will sell, but good luck to whoever buys it, because "no one" will want to see this thing in its current state.