In 10 Words or Less
Love can sometimes be more dangerous than hate
There's a limited audience for guys complaining about their divorce/separation. The courts tend to turn a deaf ear to the husband in a divorce and society as a whole tends to jump to the woman's defense in such matters. Only guys are usually sympathetic to other guys in these cases, because they know, there but for the grace of God go themselves. Derek Ridley is a man in this situation. He's been separated from his wife, and because of that, he can't see his son Will either. As is often the case in these situations, he's not happy about it, and he's going to do something about it. What he's going to do is kidnap his own kid. This is no spoiler, as it happens in the first scene. Most of the rest of the movie is spent building to that moment. Huh?
Let me explain. The film unfolds in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth in the story, slowly revealing the why's and how's of Derek's spiral downward into madness as he tries to forge a tighter bond with his son. Through flashbacks, Derek's relationship with his ex-wife is explored, as is Derek's slow descent and the reasons for it. The non-linear progression builds true drama, as each scene builds on the previous, but due to the time shift, there's none of those momentum-halting conclusions, thus keeping the energy up along the way. The editing is bang-on, which, as anyone who has seen Memento could tell you, is the most important part of a non-linear movie. If the pieces don't go together, the puzzle doesn't work.
Mile Zero is a small film, with just three main characters. As Derek, Canadian acting veteran Michael Riley gets to deliver the kind of performance that actors dream of, ranging from the safe husband to the raving maniac, and everything in between. His physical transformation is rivaled by the change in his mental state, which is nuanced enough to bring the audience along with him, instead of stalling them with laughter. His son, played by 8-year-old Connor Widdows, is good, but not great, but thankfully good enough to pull off the role of foil to Derek's insanity. He has the wide-eyed innocence of childhood down, so it's completely believable that he would go along with his dad, and not see what is going on.
Though the story is mainly one of a father and son, the mother, Allison, played by Sabrina Grdevich, is key to tying the plot together, entirely in flashbacks. As the link between Derek and Will, Allison has to be both good and bad, protecting her child and hurting her ex. Similarly, Derek can be viewed as loving or dangerous. How their actions play out determines in large part how the viewer sees them. But don't think you're deciding how you feel. The film uses music, color and editing, along with a variety of visual techniques to manipulate the viewer. It's a masterful job by a true artist. The movie's not exactly "feel good" but it's more than enjoyable in terms of execution and as an exercise in non-traditional filmmaking. The biggest knock would have to be the ending, which is less than satisfying. But other than that, this film is solid.
Mile Zero hits home video on one DVD, packaged in a standard keepcase with no insert. Following a long lead-in montage, the DVD has an extremely subtlely-animated full-screen main menu, with options for play, audio set-up (2.0 or 5.1 English), scene access, trailer and special features. The scene selection menus have still photo previews for each scene.
The film was shot handheld, to create a sense of in-the-moment immediacy, and it works. It also looks pretty good, with lush Vancouver backgrounds full of color and detail. The letterboxed widescreen transfer is clean and clear, without any signs of damage or dirt, and none of the digital compression errors one might expect from a smaller studio. Color is the main way that the director helps maintain viewer comprehension during the different parts of the timeline. The DVD reproduces these colors well, making it all work.
The audio is available in 5.1 and 2.0, but the 5.1 track is definitely the way to go, as the beautiful guitar score is enveloping in surround sound, with the strings filling the surround speakers. There's not much going on in the dialogue or sound effects, but the music is so evocative and important to the tone of the movie, that having the 5.1 track is a huge difference for the film.
The extras on this disc are surprisingly deep, considering the film's low profile. The key extra for Mile Zero is the audio commentary track, featuring director Andrew Currie and associate producer Kevin Eastwood. The twosome has plenty to say about the movie, though at times they fall victim to periods of silence. In terms of content, Currie spills the beans on his use of symbolism and color, while the both talk at length about the casting process and production. While there's some "isn't that great?" at work, most of the time they are speaking, interesting tidbits are coming out of them, including the meaning of the title.
A set of deleted scenes feature more optional commentary by Currie and Eastwood, as they discuss why the segments were cut from the film. The four scenes really wouldn't have added much, but one with a hitchhiker picked up by Derek might have changed the feel of at least one part of the film. An alternate ending is included as well in this section, but it's just as open to interpretation as the real ending.
The rest of the extras come together like a "Make Your Own EPK" kit. You get everything you need to make a fluffy studio promo piece, including biographies, interviews with the stars and director, on-the-set behind-the-scenes footage and a photo gallery. Anyone curious about the making of this film or the people behind it should have their curiosity sated by this collection of extras.
Also found on this DVD are links to web sites related to the film, a discount DVD offer and the film's trailer, which is tense and appropriate for the film.
The Bottom Line
Currie's feature-film debut is such a polished effort, full of subtext and storytelling skill, that one wonders what he'll create in the future and if he'll be able to top this movie. A dark look at what happens when love and loss cross paths, Mile Zero is an excellent example of just why independent film is important. This movie tackles a topic that's not really popular (dads tend to get the shaft when it comes to broken families) in a way that's not popular (putting the child at risk) and creates a highly interesting character study of a man who finds his breaking point because of who he loves, instead of what he hates (i.e. Falling Down.) Wellspring has put together a rather comprehensive package for this little-known Canadian indie, and, as a result, gets a Recommended rating. Find a copy and check out just what you might have missed.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.