CIFF Diary: Day 6, pt. 2 - Shady Characters and Low Budgets

10/12 - Joint Body is an American independent feature shot in Southern Illinois starring Mark Pelligrino (recently, of Lost and Dexter), and Alicia Witt (Twin Peaks, Friday Night Lights).  As a graduate of Southern Illinois University I am always curious to see films shot near my old home towns of Carbondale and Murphysboro, particularly because Southern Illinois contains some of the most beautiful landscapes in the state.  Joint Body tends not to utilize the more scenic aspects of the area where it was filmed, primarily confining itself to prison cells, motel rooms, church basements, and strip clubs.  The story involves recent parolee Nick Burke (Pelligrino) who is notified that he will not be allowed to see his young daughter after he is released back into society.  Confined to a motel room, which the film makers present effectively as just another form of prison, Burke meets one of the other motel residents, a "stripper with a heart of gold" named Michelle, who he eventually asks out on a date.  Before the date can happen, Burke is given a gun by a crooked cop, his brother Dean (Ryan O'Nan), which he ends up using to shoot the rapist who attacks Michelle in her motel room, in a ridiculously overwrought attempt to up the ante of the dramatic tone of the film (the less said about it, the better).

Joint Body
Pelligrino is an actor with obvious chops, and he and Witt stay mostly committed to a script that is probably not as good as the effort they're giving it.  The director occasionally manages to draw the character's psychology through the use of space, as when we see Burke attending AA meetings in a dim church basement, or in an early moment when we follow Witt's expression back onto the floor of the strip club as she exposes herself to a sleazy paying customer.  Both of these moments imbue the characters with the weight of experience, but unfortunately the interest the director establishes in those characters early on has long evaporated by the time we get to the third reel of Joint Body.  None of the other characters feel like anything other than loose sketches, and, although I realize there is some low budget design going on here, there are often scenes that really fail to hit for lack of any competent production design.   Ultimately, Joint Body needs a few more script drafts, but even then I'm not sure it would yield a film worth seeing.  The admirable arc of a father attempting to reconnect with his daughter is present, and handled in some nice ways in the quiet, sparse finale, but everything in between the few good notes they hit at the beginning and the end is not enough to keep this film afloat.

Mark Pelligrino as Nick Burke in Joint Body
Up Next:  The manga adaptation Smuggler, directed by Katsuhito Ishii, best known for the O-Ren Ishii animated sequence from Kill Bill, Vol.1.


Brian K. Morgan said...

Jason, I am glad that I have been able attend several screenings with you during this fest. Unfortunately I am sorry to have seen this one. I broke out of the joint (aka work)to see this one. And now I just want to go back to my cell. I was intrigued by the festival guide description that described it as having noir infused characters and I suppose it did in a sense. Maybe I was expecting something that felt more hardcore, or gritty. Although it may have made for a trite movie to have it focus on the loss of his daughter, I think that's what the movie should have been about. beside the two end caps dealing with the daughter nothing in the middle is good. I was cringing at the misuse of the timing sequence indicating day one; day two, etc. Once again I think it is an interesting idea that needed more of a framework, perhaps if we knew something was going to happen within a week, it would have created tension. Instead, it just make it felt like the movie would never be over. Had the technique been used effectively it could have really added to the imprisoned feeling; marking time until something significant happens. Also as you mentioned the landscape of southern Illinois, it really could have been used to present a contrast between the confines of the various "cells" that the characters find themselves in. It's too bad, there was lots of wasted potential. Lock me up, I'm guilty. I've had enough!

Jason Hedrick said...

It is interesting how those types of storytelling devices: "Day One" - "Day Two", etc...often serve no purpose in films. Joint Body is another example where the device just puts a finer point on the slow pacing of the film (which is less than 90 minutes). Also, yes, "noir infused" may be a bit misleading, as that suggests, at least, some element of style.