SXSW FILM 2012
By Linc Leifeste | March 15, 2012
Director: Matt Ruskin
Writer: Matt Ruskin
Starring: Nico Stone, Adam DuPaul, Seymour Cassel, Kristin Dougherty, Brian McGrail, Megan Hart
With his debut narrative feature film Booster, director Matt Ruskin has crafted the dark, gritty Boston crime drama that Ben Affleck only wishes he could make, luckily more The Friends of Eddie Coyle than The Town. Slowly paced almost to a fault, the film is packed with authentic characters that are fully fleshed out, real people with real problems forced by a combination of circumstances and poor choices into making difficult decisions. And the film treats these characters with the respect and nuance they deserve, neither glorifying their criminal acts nor marginalizing them as one-note criminals.
Simon (Nico Stone) is a small-time crook, who spends much of his time shoplifting a variety of items to sell off to his fence (and friend) Paul (Adam DuPaul). Why he doesn’t instead devote his time to working a job isn’t fully explained but he seems to have his hands full between trying to look out for his older drug-addicted brother Sean (Brian McGrail), taking care of his grandmother who is facing the last days of her life in an assisted living facility, and making regular visits to Harold (Seymour Cassel), who is living in a senior citizen facility apparently abandoned by his family. While clearly a flawed character, Simon’s faults are somewhat balanced by his obvious love and devotion to his friends and family.
Simon, despite his devotion to a small cast of characters, is a solitary individual and a person of few words. In what appears to be an out of the ordinary experience, he begins to develop a romantic relationship with Megan (Kristin Dougherty), a store clerk who chooses not to turn him in after catching him in the act of shoplifting. The two actors manage great on-screen chemistry, the characters clearly smitten while dancing around each other awkwardly at times. Interestingly, the chemistry between Simon and Paul is even more palpable, probably due to their having been childhood friends.
Simon’s life is suddenly set on a path not of his choosing when his brother is arrested for the armed robbery of a laundromat. Pressured by Paul as well as Sean’s girlfriend Kara (Megan Hart) and motivated by his own sense of familial obligation, Simon struggles to embrace the idea of committing a string of copy-cat crimes in order to create reasonable doubt about his brother’s guilt. This, of course, will endanger his life as well as his blossoming relationship with Megan. And when he discovers that his brother also has a large unpaid debt to a dangerous criminal, he quickly realizes he will have to double down on his criminal activity in order to guarantee his brother’s physical well-being.
While the film is filled with solid performances (and I refuse to review a film with Seymour Cassel without giving him a celebratory shout-out), Nico Stone stands out with his mesmerizing performance as Simon, making it hard to believe that he was a non-actor prior to this role. Much like the film, his role is one of few words, with much of his communication coming from his eyes and body language.
Booster is a well-crafted meditative take on family and the lengths to which one might go in order to protect it, a film that is often silent and communicates most effectively visually, probably as well as any film I’ve seen in a long while. The film is filled with images that will stick with you long after you leave the theater, whether it’s of Nico in the pool with his grandmother, assisting with her therapy, or him in the water with Megan, skinny-dipping together. And the film’s closing images have replayed in my head countless times in the days since I saw the film. While the slow crawl of a pace will turn off some viewers, there’s no doubt that Matt Ruskin (in the role of director, writer and editor) along with cinematographer Tim Gillis have accomplished an admirable feat of film-making.
(Also check out our SXSW 2012 interview with Matt Ruskin, Nico Stone and Adam DuPaul.)