The Son of No One Review
The Son of No One is the third feature from Dito Montiel. Formerly best-known as a musician and a writer, he made his directorial debut with an adaptation of his own autobiography, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, which he followed up with 2009’s bare-knuckle boxing melodrama, Fighting. After just two movies a discernible style was already apparent, a combination of morose goings-on and a visual style reminiscent of a fashion shoot. Unsurprisingly, The Son of No One continues in much the same vein and shares further similarities. Once again, Montiel’s native New York, specifically its meaner streets, is the setting, whilst Channing Tatum remains a fixture in the cast list.
As with Fighting, Tatum occupies the lead even if he’s been trumped by Al Pacino on the credits. Here he plays a rookie cop in his early thirties whose past is catching up with him. Back in 1982, as a child growing up in the projects, he killed a man. The police investigated but the case was soon dropped and eventually forgotten about. Since then he’s gotten on with his life, gotten married, had a daughter and joined the police force. The Son of No One being a thriller, it soon emerges that someone is seeking a re-investigation. Anonymous letters and texts are being sent to a crusading journalist and a whole heap of police corruption is looking likely to be exposed. The film flits between its present day of 2002 and thirty years previous as we slowly learn of what happened back then and how it all connects with now.
The choice of 2002 and 1982 as The Son of No One’s time periods is seemingly dictated by the colour it brings to the story. One is post-9/11, a New York in which men in uniform are celebrated and any signs of corruption or terror are purely foreign and never domestic. The other is pre-Giuliani (who crops up on television screens) and pre-zero tolerance. The projects are portrayed as gaudy, graffiti-strewn hellholes populated by junkies, paedophiles and lost causes. Montiel borrows a page out of Spike Lee’s book and shoots the whole thing Clockers-style in rich, oversaturated and downright ugly colours. Yet the visual steal/homage only points up the emptiness of his own efforts. Whereas Clockers had Richard Price’s heavily researched and richly detailed novel and screenplay, The Son of No One has a rather flimsy script and little or no point to make. It’s all window dressing.
The major flaw is the lack of intrigue. The Son of No One has one mystery: who is writing the letters. Everything else is drip-fed to us through flashbacks delivered at random. The scenes from the eighties aren’t prompted through investigation or discovery, but rather through Montiel deciding when we should find out an additional bit of information. There’s no tension, just a filmmaker covering up the slimness of his creation by making it appear far more tricksy than it actually is. Once all the revelations have been made you wonder what all the fuss was about. Indeed, even the final reveal as to who was sending those letters and anonymous text messages doesn’t really add up to much.
In previous films Montiel has had some excellent actors at hand to paper over some of the cracks: Robert Downey, Jr. in A Guide to Recognising Your Saints; Terrence Howard in Fighting. Tatum too deserves some recognition as he’s a much better actor than the Step Up movies ever suggested (lately he’s been attracting plenty of kudos for his comic turn in 21 Jump Street, a role which has seemingly surprised many). The Son of No One has an especially heavyweight cast list to back him up, including Al Pacino and Juliette Binoche, both of whom deserve much better. Admittedly they’re relegated to minor roles (Pacino is the detective in the ’82 flashbacks; Binoche the crusading reporter) but still they’re completely wasted. Much the same is true of Katie Holmes (playing the wife), though at least Ray Liotta - who’s done his fair share of lacklustre cop thrillers - knows how to enjoy himself under such circumstances. There again, we’ve seen him do this kind of thing many times before so that should hardly be taken an endorsement.
An extras-free release, but a perfectly acceptable presentation. It’s hard to be entirely sure with The Son of No One given the manipulation it has clearly undergone in post-production. Montiel has upped the gaudiness with over saturation and an emphasis on the uglier side of the colour spectrum, which has also affected the grain levels from scene to scene as well as the amount of detail. But the disc would appear to be faithful to the intended look. It comes in its original 2.35:1 ratio and looks as pristine as you would expect from such a new production. The soundtrack, here presented in DTS-HD, is similarly crisp and clean, plus it comes with accompanying optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing. As said, not a single extra.