Although director/writer Dito Montiel apparently has a clear idea of what he's doing with The Son of No One (as per the commentary track on the DVD), that vision doesn't show in the final product. As presented, the film awkwardly splits its time between 1986 and 2002 in the interest of two stories that stumble around in search of forward momentum.
Channing Tatum plays Jonathan White, a police officer recently reassigned to a district a couple hours away from his home. He gets home every night after his daughter is in bed, shifting the stress of parental responsibility onto his wife Kerry (Katie Holmes). Jonathan is prepared to keep his head down and ride out the assignment in the hopes he'll end up back in his original precinct, but his plans hit a snag when his captain (Ray Liotta) assigns Jonathan and his slimy partner Prudenti (James Ransone) to investigate reporter Loren Bridges (Juliette Binoche) and the series of anonymous letters she's been receiving and subsequently publishing about two unsolved murders in the Queensboro projects back in 1986. The captain is only interested in protecting the department from a scandal that will neuter the goodwill generated by fire and police action during September 11th, but Jonathan has a bigger reason to worry: he is the murderer in question.
In order to fill in Jonathan's backstory, Montiel starts flipping back and forth between the past and present, but the result is dramatically exhausting. For almost a third of the film, the Tatum version of the character basically stands around unsure of what to do about the threat of his secret being revealed; every scene with him is a tense situation where he thinks about the possibility that this could be it and not taking any action, while Montiel cuts to long sequences of a younger Jonathan (Jake Cherry) and his best friend Vinnie (Brian Gilbert) dealing with the first of the two murders. There's no flow between the past and present during this stretch, no time at which the present timeline actually tells the viewer anything all that interesting about Jonathan.
The tipster sending the letters is anonymous, and the nature of this element of the film is quite muddled. Some of Montiel's direction takes on a secretive feel, hinting at things he isn't showing us, as if the movie is building towards some sort of twist reveal, and one whole scene late in the movie feels like the payoff, but the conclusion goes in an entirely different direction. Motivations for at least one action (a violent physical threat) taken against Jonathan is poorly explained. The threat against people other than Jonathan in the department could also be clearer; although some reprimands may be handed down, and people will go back to hating cops, it's hard to believe something serious will happen to the successor of a police chief who failed to solve two project murders. Hell, compared to abuses of power happening in the present, it's hard to believe anyone will have time to worry about something that happened almost twenty years ago.
Some of the performances elevate the proceedings a little: Juliette Binoche has good "this is my story" pride as the reporter printing the letters, and a surprisingly subdued Tracy Morgan hits a couple of strong notes as the adult Vinnie, but veterans like Liotta and Al Pacino (as the investigating officer back in 1986) are pretty much on autopilot. Cherry is also good as the young Jonathan, but their efforts aren't enough to give The Son of No One a pass.
It's not a feat of design, but I actually like the simple, bold design of The Son of No One's poster, carried over to the DVD artwork. I also greatly appreciate that the names on the poster are actually in the right order over the little pictures of the ensemble cast at the top -- what an innovative idea! The disc comes in an eco-case (the kind that has holes in the front and back), and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Anchor Bay's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation has some issues, not all of which can be attributed to the original photography. The entire image has a subtle but pervasive harsh look to it. It's not a disaster, but there's rarely a shot in the film I didn't wonder why the transfer didn't look better. Haloing appears to be a significant issue, from the bars of the stairwell in Jonathan's house to the outline of an officer in a dark blue uniform sitting in front of white police station walls. In dark scenes, a surprising amount of black crush rears its head, and some whites appear to be blown out. Each of these issues is subtle and they rarely if ever cross paths, but it all adds up to a very underwhelming video presentation.
On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is quite impressive. Almost half of the movie takes place in the dingy stairwells of a New York housing project, and the hollow echo of conversations in these hallways is rendered perfectly. The rest of the movie doesn't have a great deal of action occurring, but outdoor scenes have a nice open air feel to them, capturing the sound of city streets and suburban neighborhoods, and the rare big moment does capture all of the little details, like scattering bits of glass. A Spanish mono track, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
Under the setup menu, viewers can access an audio commentary by director/producer/writer Dito Montiel and executive producer Jake Pushinsky. Montiel reveals quite a bit about his intentions with the film that are less than clear in the finished product, namely that Jonathan isn't meant to be wracked by any guilt over his actions, and that the viewer is supposed to know at least a few things that I thought were muddled twists. The only other extra is a reel of extended scenes (6:35). The most notable is the very first one: the entire, unedited, bizarre, fourth-wall-breaking monologue by Roger Guenveur Smith.
Trailers for Catch .44. Kill the Irishman, Texas Killing Fields, and The Divide play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for The Son of No One is also included.
The Son of No One features decent performances from its ensemble cast, but (as evidenced by the director's commentary), the execution of its ideas are muddled beyond recognition. Floundering as a drama and failing as a thriller, this one can be skipped.
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