What Doesn't Kill You

The Plot
There was a time when mob movies consisted of likable bad guys who could carry a story line with great acting, and minimal violence, a la Godfather, or Goodfellas.  Those were more “Family” oriented.  If you were more attracted to the “Rebel”, solo act, you could always fall back on Scarface, that in spite of the violence, language, and excessive drug innuendo, you still somehow managed to feel for him and quietly hoped that he would… you know, conquer over the other cartels.  This particular movie tries to sell itself as a depiction of the life of the Boston Southie; the focus being on two, very low level, Mob-like-wannabe thugs, who (like the movie) never seem to “get ahead”.

Throughout the movie you can see the typical opening of most mob movies; unstable upbringing immediately followed by a fast forward to adult life.  This technique seems to be the norm and easy to digest.  However, unlike other movies of this nature, the character development here is very rushed and straight to the point.  This is probably because in the very beginning, it mentions in very small letters, “The following movie is a true story”.  I anticipated a far more intriguing storyline, but was instead taken directly into the introduction of two teenagers, Brian Reilly (Mark Ruffalo) and Paulie McDougan (Ethan Hawke) and their side-show antics.  There is no character development of any kind, except to say that they appear to get by on Nickel-and-Dime jobs for beer money and they really don’t answer to anyone.  After one of their “jobs”, they are noticed by Pat Kelly (Brian Goodman), the local big man on campus, who offers them an opportunity to make a couple of dollars by running an errand.  Once again, no character development and no background.

Early on there are moments that appear to have potential, but it never really takes off.  This is probably because in spite of it being a true story, it simply didn’t seem that believable.  None of the characters appear to notice some of the obvious questions that any viewer would ask.  How did Brian manage to be married with children, and still be doing this type of work, much to the surprise of everyone around him except for Paulie?  Where does Paulie live?  Who does Pat Kelly answer to?  However, in the interest of making it through the movie, I tried to ignore these things.  The focus of the movie, for the most part, was on Brian. His daily struggles are between his lack of money, his friend Paulie, his disappointing actions as a father and husband, and a newly developed addiction to cocaine.

The addiction seems to quickly become his main problem and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.  Compound this with his already existing issues and you have a resemblance of a story line.  However, even though this would open the story up to a series of different options, it takes a serious turn that appears to be the beginnings of character development, half way through the movie.  This is difficult to go with because his moods are roughly the same regardless of what’s going on in his life; docile around Paulie and Pat, rude to his wife Stacy (Amanda Peet), and just an all around bully around everyone else.  Ultimately the movie tries desperately to sell you on the idea that he has a difficult decision to make that can define the rest of his life and those around him, but with such poor character and story development, you’ll be hard pressed to even care.  The “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” approach that was taken leaves you asking which one is the lesser of the two evils; his current situations which is bleak, or his future which is equally as bleak no matter what he does.

Directing
Brian Goodman, who also played Pat Kelly in the movie, directed this movie.  It appears that he had a good idea, but would have better served picking one or the other.  His character Pat could have been a force had he been more involved in the movie.  Being a co-writer as well made this pretty much his baby, but it may have been more than he could handle.

Acting
The movie had a pretty decent cast Mark Ruffalo, Ethan Hawke, Amanda Peet, Brian Goodman, and Donnie Wahlberg (Detective Moran), but the story line and editing simply could not be helped.  Wahlberg’s character hardly had any lines at all and looked brooding, but it just never took off.  Individually, they all did very well.  Unfortunately this is one that I think they are not going to claim at parties.

Overall
As much as I would have liked, I can’t get overly excited about this movie for several reasons.  The main reason being that it’s simply not interesting or believable, true or not.  The acting made it barely watchable, but for a movie with so much potential, it came up short on many levels.  For the most part, the lack of character development, the way sudden changes in storylines were abruptly introduced, and the general flow of the movie doesn’t leave you much to hold on to.