Shot in the Dark
HBO // Unrated // $19.98 // June 14, 2011
Review by Rich Rosell | posted August 13, 2011
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Years before his role in the series Entourage 23-year-old actor Adrian Grenier created this 2002 HBO documentary about his search for his estranged father he hasn't seen in 18 years, in which he attempts to discover what it means to have and/or not had a father. Through a series of interviews with his mother, friends, people on the street and eventually his father Shot In The Dark proves to be about one person's journey of discovery (Grenier's) into his own life, his own sense of self and the necessity of knowing one's own origin story, as it were. As the narrative progresses it becomes clear that his upbringing was far from traditional, and one of the film's biggest surprises is the way our sympathies are forced to shift and readjust as truths and realities become evident.

And that's probably the doc's strongest suit - the real-life dramatic twists - that give Shot In The Dark any sort of substance, because much of the time it wanders slowly, often seeming more like therapy fodder than filmmaking. There is the awkward phone call from Grenier to his father, brimming with uncomfortable silences and small talk that launches the film's second half, where we meet John the father and it is from there that things begin to get interesting. What occurs is an about face, a tilt of our perspective, where suddenly what we think of when the term "estranged father" is used becomes something very different. Through it all Grenier moves with a shaggy neo-hippie casual cool, poking his camera in the faces of those closest to him while we the viewer are left to wade through the unusual story of the lives of his mother and father.

The problem with Shot In The Dark is that I never became properly drawn in enough to care what really took place. Sure, I sympathized with Grenier's situation, but as segments veered into meandering rambling I was left wondering at the point of it all. When the truths are all told there is a story here, but as a documentary it is lacking in its overall construction, including the final "fantasy" moments that were oddly out of place. Even at a mere 85 minutes the narrative drags in spots, and perhaps this could have been more effective with a shorter runtime.

Grenier wisely avoids the usual manufactured documentary drama by not making this solely about the buildup to the eventual reunion with this father, which happens about mid-way through. There are quasi-familial skeletons to unearth, foisted up in sole-baring openness as Grenier introduces us to men in his life who were more father to him than his biological dad. We're left to ponder the obvious - who makes us what we are? - and though Grenier is not necessarily able to construct a definitive answer he does dig deep into his own life, operating under the assumption that we all care just because it is being filmed.

It would be wrong to call this a completely self-indulgent film, but I found myself wondering why I should care about Grenier's personal journey. I'm glad he found out what he found out, and he certainly seems like a nice enough guy, but at the end of the day I felt more like a nosy neighbor than an engaged documentary viewer.

Presented in its original 1.33:1 fullframe Shot In The Dark looks the part of a hand-crafted "personal" documentary. Don't go into this expecting something it can't be -transfer-wise - and you won't be disappointed. It's fly-on-the-wall filmmaking, with colors and fleshtones holding up reasonably well throughout, and no evidence of measurable specking or debris.

Audio is presented in modest-but-workable 2.0 (in either English or Spanish) that works more than adequately with the simple on-the-road format of Grenier's doc. Interview segments are easily understandable, voice quality is clear - even under challenging conditions - and there was no hiss or crackle, either.

Extras begin with a lackluster commentary track from Adrian Grenier and producers/crew Jonathan Davidson and Jim Mol. Much like the film itself it wanders a bit too aimlessly, with Grenier explaining what's happening onscreen much of the time. I felt Grenier was open enough in the film that I didn't need any additional insight, and in my opinion I was right.

Also included is Behind The Scenes of the "Crazy" Music Video (02m:48s) shot in 1999 during the filming of the Britney Spears video. A clean-shaven Grenier is featured in "Crazy" as a bartender, and in addition to some production footage he conducts interviews with Melissa Joan Hart (also in the video) and Spears about fatherhood. In Are You My Daddy? (04m:50s) Grenier visits his friend/producer Jonathan Davidson a decade later to see how fatherhood is treating him while 10 Years Later: Updates Via Skype features two rather eye-opening followups on Grenier's fractured family: John, Debbie and Family (04m:21s) and Bob, Karesse and Family (01m:54s)

Final Thoughts
This was obviously a personal and cathartic documentary for Grenier to make, but as a viewer it doesn't carry the same emotional heft. His journey has some interesting dramatic dips and turns - much like anyone's life, I suppose - only he's there with a camera to document it.

Consider this doc recommended only if you enjoy poking your nose into someone else's life for 90 minutes.

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