Petty Cash (2010) – By Cary Conley

Petty Cash is a low budget independent film in the vein of Pulp Fiction, Magnolia, and Crash, all films that thrive on story threads that are interrelated but also disconnected until the climax, when each plotline is tied up in the end. Probably most similar to Pulp Fiction, Petty Cash tells myriad stories of small-time hoods and their stripper/hooker/crackhead whores. Trying to describe the plot in a paragraph or two wouldn’t do the film justice; suffice to say that each criminal is trying to screw someone else, and they all want their hands on a certain sum of money (the "petty cash" that gives the film a title), which passes from one lowlife to the next as each is betrayed, beaten or killed. Most of the main characters are introduced, a la Quentin Tarantino, with title cards displaying their names, like "Coco," "Sergio," and "Spain."

Writer/director Ross Bigley does a very nice job in keeping what could have been a confusing storyline (we start with a prologue and title card that reads "24 hours earlier") easy for the viewer to understand. Even though the story jumps from one point in time to another and from one character to another, the viewer is never lost. This is not easy to do, and more than one big-budget Hollywood film has failed while trying. Bigley also does a fine job of tying all the loose ends up, even providing some excellent–and darkly humorous–irony at the tail-end of the film.

Even though big-name actress Bai Ling (Anna and the King; The Crow; Lords of Dogtown; Crank 2: High Voltage) gets top billing, she is relegated to a supporting character and a limited number of scenes. No matter, as the cast is solid through-and-through. Many of the actors are regional actors, some coming from Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, where the film was made, but it makes no difference as each one turns in a solid performance. Several exceptional performances include those by Donnell Jackson as Spain, Robert W.C. Kennedy as Jimmie, Tom Lodewyck as Lars, Joshua Parkes as Richie, Edy Cullen as Sandy, and Lindsay Bledsoe as Mary Ann. I was particularly impressed with Cullen’s performance. Her story was the least glamorous in the film, but she brought a sad realism to what many sometimes mistake as the romance of living life with a gangster.

Bigley also brings a gritty realism to the film, showing the dark and violent nature of even a small-time underworld. The excellent musical score only serves to enhance the depressive atmosphere of the film. I was greatly impressed by Bigley’s film. While Petty Cash hasn’t been officially released yet, please stop by Dirty Job Films at www.dirtyjobfilms.com for updates on coming screenings and an official release date.