Is a heist movie worth watching for one compelling character amid a foursome executing a run-of-the-mill, semi-realistic job? Phillip Guzman's noir-ish crime thriller 2:22 makes a case for the affirmative with Gully Mercer, played by co-writer Mick Rossi.
He's an internalized, meek man who doesn't fit the mold of an orchestrator of jewel heists, following in his father's footsteps as he lives a simple life with his goldfish and his AA meetings. As he sits at a bar and sips on a beverage, methodically sizing up a hotel with a nonchalant, weathered demeanor, Rossi shows how being both a writer and actor on a particular project can translate into a massive success. He's easily the most captivating thing about Guzman's picture, and nearly a justifiable force in himself. Alas, several of the other characters in 2:22 don't follow suit, getting swallowed up in unnecessary and, at times, off-putting exposition that fatten this stylish crime drama with destitute meandering instead of keeping it lean.
Gully runs a heist operation with three point men: an older, paroled gangster named Willy (Robert Miano), a quiet and long-haired Hispanic lover Gael (Jorge A. Jimenez), and brutish thug Finn (Aaron Gallagher) with a sailor's mouth that carries over to his wife and kids. As with many of its type, the front end of Guzman's character piece focuses on getting to know these guys for all their flaws and bright points, leading into discovery of Finn's irrational volatility to his dog and a lengthy, out-of-the-blue sex scene masked as character development. Amid all this, Willy watches a terrible soap opera just before his female parole officer comes a-knockin' for a surprise visit. It's easy to see what Guzman and Rossi are trying to do, giving the characters an authentic keel through trivial interactions, but the brusqueness behind it -- especially the avoidable dog violence -- rings false.
2:22 mostly derives from Guzman's straightforward desire to execute a heist flick amid wintertime in Toronto, which he and Rossi accomplish admirably once the film approaches its central purpose. Under perpetual monitoring, Gully orchestrates a hit on The Grange Hotel's lock-box depository on New Year's Eve, a simple in-and-out job. Nothing's really "in-and-out" when it comes to heists, something the four thieves soon learn as the hotel's guests throw complications at them. A huge chunk of the film revolves around juggling the motley crew of guests in the hotel, from a powerful drug-slinging thug (Peter Dobson) and the star of Willy's soap opera to a rich CEO and his girlfriend, which gravitates around a dose of deadpan, tongue-in-cheek humor that amuses without derailing the heist's tension. This, of course, doesn't apply to the futile plot thread involving a suicidal old man that meanders, both figuratively and literally.
Even through all this, captured by cinematographer Philip Roy in an earthy-yet-calculated frostbitten style that I really enjoyed, attention always finds its way back to Rossi's Gully. It's a testament to the output that comes about when an actor doubles as a screenwriter, showing depth and understanding of his character through the labors in conceptualizing the screenplay. Though Gully's intrigue make an impression early on, from his svelte handling of his comrades to his affable connection with the crew's jewel-cutting "fence" (Val Kilmer in a quirky, sharp two-scene cameo),it only intensifies as the story tumbles downward in the aftermath of the heist's not-so-seamless execution. Though gaps in logic can't be ignored late in Guzman and Rossi's script, namely the raising of suspicion over dirty fingernails and not one, but two happenstance meetings crucial to the film's collapse, it's still off-and-on engaging through the style imbued around Gully's demeanor.
Video and Audio:
Shot digitally with budgeted but slick HD cameras, 2:22 arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.78:1 1080p AVC encode that reputably cradles the film's tempered, green-hued style. Some of the textures get a bit smeary, while the heft grain present in some darker shots approaches digital limitations instead of artistic intent. However, there's a lot of other intriguing textures and smooth, alluring color usage in the film, coupled with a level of contrast that presents many dark shades against each other. This high-definition image retains the shades with mostly-solid blocks of color and black levels, while handling the graceful flow of the film with elegance in 24fps. A breathtaking slow-motion Steadicam shot in the snow as the guys exit the Grange Hotel exemplifies all the disc high points.
As a surprise, the DTS HD Master Audio track also offers quite a bit of bang. A healthy number of gunshots permeate the film, which rattle the soundstage as they punch into the audio design and leave echoing remnants that travel to the rear speakers. Sounds like a drill going through deposit boxes grind with scintillating clarity The synth-heavy music accompanies these effects to the rear channels, pulsing along with the flow of the picture while also fluttering in the lower-frequency bass channel with a lot of grace. The vocal clarity wanes a bit in a few sequences, but otherwise the aural treatment's pretty damn impressive for a low-budget action flick.
Aside from a Photo Gallery a Making of 2:22 (32:36, 16x9) feature has been included that notches through just about every bullet point in the film's conception. Mick Rocci and Phillip Guzman discuss working with Val Kilmer, the inspiration behind making a heist film, how the two filmmakers first got in touch, and how they achieved the intensity of a big shoot-out. The number of topics covered outweighs the density of their discussion, mostly building into 2-3 minute blurbs about each bit, but the behind-the-scenes footage included around each one remains revealing throughout from an indie picture construction standpoint.
2:22 might not be the equivalent of a low-budget indie synthesis of Heat and Rififi as it tries to be, but Phillip Guzman's picture does offer a fine, watchable heist narrative that carries along a magnetic character in co-writer Mick Rocci's Gully. Gaps in logic within the script and some gruff, force-fed character exposition still shackle the picture down, not able to be masked by a handful of suitable performances and a fine line of tension during the actual core heist sequence. But the meat of the matter, Gully's orchestration of a hotel job on New Year's, finds enough satisfaction to make this one a sturdy, mostly engaging Rental.