Many films are made that are solid dramatic pieces, very well-made little films that, while very good pieces of work, are otherwise unremarkable. That’s what I thought of Roulette as the first few minutes rolled across the screen: a well-acted and well-executed independent drama. Clearly, other folks thought the same, as evidenced by the number of awards the film has won. But what would distinguish it from the dozens of other indie dramas that were out there? But as the film continued to play and the story unfolded, it became clear that this was more than merely a well-crafted dramatic piece. By film’s end I had been surprised, shocked, and awed by what was certainly more than a solid but unremarkable film. In fact, Roulette is a powerhouse of emotion and something much more than the decent little indie film I thought I was going to be seeing.
Dean Jensen (Mike Baldwin), Richard Kessler (Will Haza), and Sunny Howard (Ali Lukowski) are members of a support group for potential suicides. They form a suicide pact, deciding to leave the group and meet at Dean’s empty house to consummate their promise to each other. As they play Russian Roulette, nerves begin to fray until the three partners in crime are literally at each other’s throats. Between rounds of Roulette and accusations the viewer is treated to each character’s back story. These stories eventually lead the characters to Dean’s house and the fateful game of Russian Roulette they are now playing.
Dean is a young, well-built construction worker and landscaper. He has a beautiful girlfriend who loves him. The two get married and move into a pretty little house. They are living the dream when Dean begins having muscular problems. The mysterious illness rapidly causes Dean to degenerate until he is wheelchair-bound and incapable of work. His new wife is now forced to work two jobs and come home to care for her invalid husband. At 25 years of age, this was not what he–or she–had bargained for.
Richard is a hard-working, 30-something up-and-comer. He plays hard, too, hitting the bar after work to watch his single friend pick up his next conquest before going home to his wife. When he’s passed up for a promotion at work, his sense of being cheated begins to consume him. Eventually he becomes a full-blown alcoholic, losing both his job and his wife before hitting the road in a drunken stupor.
Sunshine , or Sunny, as her father affectionately calls her, has grown up in a fundamentalist and fanatically religious household. Growing up hearing tales of how her adulterous mother tried to abort her, dying in the attempt before Sunny was saved in the emergency room, she splits her time between church, the local library, and harassing young women as they enter the area’s abortion clinic. But when she meets Leon (Jan-David Souter) at the library, she eschews her religious ways and embarks on a sinfully libidinous adventure with him. She ends up hiding in a closet, pregnant and alienated from her family, and now she has reached a personal crisis point.
The structure of the film is similar to Pulp Fiction and Magnolia, where flashbacks of each character’s life unfolds until the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. Only then do we, as well as Dean, Kessler, and Sunny, realize that they are inextricably linked to each other in revelations that are quite shocking to both the characters as well as the viewer. As if these revelations aren’t enough, writer/director Erik Kristopher Myers saves one more twist–straight out of The Twilight Zone–for the denouement. Folks, this is powerful stuff.
Myers, who is relatively new to film production, though he’s been a film critic for a while, shows he has a great deal of talent with Roulette. As already mentioned, the writing is a tour-de-force of power. The plot line is about as complicated as any film I’ve seen, yet Myers not only keeps it interesting but assembles the various pieces perfectly. With a story as complicated as this one, the film could have been an utter mess, but Myers’ storytelling is always clear. Character development is also a strong point in the writing. Each character has his or her own warts, flaws that bring them to the point where they are contemplating suicide. As the psychiatrist that leads the suicide group states, "Choices have led us here." Each character makes choices that affect their lives in a negative way, and each character must now deal with the fallout from those choices. In fact, that seems to be the message that Myers is trying to get across: life is about choices, and those choices not only affect our own lives but the lives of others as well.
Generally speaking, the acting is also excellent. While there may be a few minor characters that are clearly amateur (which happens when you make a $30,000 film with this kind of scope), all of the leads and major supporting characters are superb. Some of the scenes are quite intense and the actors exhibit a broad range of realistic emotion. The film is also sound on a technical level, with excellent cinematography by Jamie Bender and nice editing by Myers himself. The musical score by Dan Schepleng is a high point as well, and adds to the emotional buildup of the scenes.
While it is certainly early in the year, I would be surprised if I saw any other film in 2013 that comes close to the emotional impact that Roulette has. I heartily recommend catching a viewing of Roulette, which has been playing on the festival circuit for nearly a year now. If you would like to see a preview for the film, you can go to http://www.roulettefilm.com.