Starring: Tom Sizemore, Edward James Olmos, Resmine Atis, Enrique Almeida
Sizemore stars as Detective John Cunningham, a temperamental, alcoholic cop working the gang-controlled streets of East Los Angeles, whose preferred solution to the crime problem would be to bulldoze the whole area. When a drive-by shooting ends with local Latino gang-banger "Shaggy" Gonzalez (Billy Garcia) dead and his brother "Dreamer" (Enrique Almeida) with an amnesia-inducing head wound, Cunningham is assigned to the case along with female Detective Gramm (Atis), a rookie transfer from Chicago where she was responsible for ratting on a corrupt colleague.
The shooting has resulted in a temporary truce between Dreamer's gang and their rivals but Dreamer's desire to avenge his brother's death looks set to relight the fuse that could start another gang war. Meanwhile, the discovery of a several mutilated bodies on the Gonzalez's turf leaves the police in doubt as to whether they are looking for an out of control gang member or a dangerous serial killer. For Cunningham and Gramm, the only chance of finding out is if Dreamer can find the lost pieces of his fractured memory.
When I heard that Splinter was going to be released in September I was somewhat confused, having championed Toby Wilkins’s creepy horror debut earlier this year. But, I found that this was a 2006 movie directed by one of Edward James Olmos’ sons. With Castillo/William Adama in the movie I was enthusiastic.
Most gang movies bore me, they tend to be superficial and lean towards the stereotypical. Splinter does no such thing. It strikes a careful balance between showing the life in these areas candidly, without excuses for the gang mentality, and showing the attitude of the law towards the areas where violence can erupt from a look or a hand gesture between separate gangs and officers often get injured.
It's not often that someone has the stones to emulate a Michael Mann movie, but Olmos attempts an admiral effort at doing so, and he largely succeeds on a much lower budget. Splinter has both the moodiness and darkness of Collateral and Miami Vice whilst bringing a unique Latino flavour that only someone who understands the culture can bring.
"The kind of film he has made allows you to go into a world that you would never be able to go into, and that's really the best usage of cinema, just to let us in and experience something that we could never either have thought about, or that we could never had the courage to be in. So this is a safe place to watch and understand this kind of behaviour"
- Edward James Olmos
The idea for the movie came from Enrique Almeida, who had the script for a while. Noel Gugliemi, who plays "Dusty" said:
" We wanted to do a Mexican version of Friday, a Mexican version of Menace II Society"
Dark Horse Indie believes in putting the creator in control. Almeida was fed up with playing the same roles, of a Latino thug. He wanted to bring something new to the genre, not have the characters be the stereotypical Latinos - all bandanas and attitude. Dark Horse bravely allowed the filmmakers this freedom and it pays off, artistically. We see a side of LA that isn't seen in glossier pictures. Much of what was filmed was shot in the filmmaker's neighbourhood.
Tom Sizemore does his best work in this feature. Sizemore’s performance is convincing and powerful. Here is a man that has had his spirit wrenched from him because of the things he has witnessed and that there never seems to be an end to what he does. He describes the police’s job as that of a dog warden. Cunningham’s job is to remove the dog from the streets even when there is ten or more following right behind it. The interview with Sizemore (contained in the DVD Special Features) is more a confessional, than a treatment of the Cunningham character, but the two go hand in hand. As Sizemore explicitly states, in the interview;
"Tom Sizemore is not a bad-ass killer"
The interview is frank and Sizemore is extremely generous in allowing the viewer inside his head at that particularly point in time. I can only wish Tom well and hope that he has got through the worst of what comes across as a hellish time. At the time of writing this, sadly, it seems that he hasn't.
"Cunningham is faithless"- Tom Sizemore
Resmine Atis plays an intriguing role of a woman whose intuition is a little more developed and focused than most. This leads to name calling by her peers, calling her “creepy”. We see that Gramm visualises the crime scene based upon the evidence presented. This enables here to see more than her colleagues might, often causing a bit of friction. Atis spent some time with a female member of the LAPD, learning how to move, learning how a woman manages in a male dominated career. This training shows on screen. You only have to look at Atis when she is arresting suspects in the movie. She moves with a confidence that might not have come from just reading the script.
Edward James Olmos adds the movie a certain gravitas that is always welcome. He was due to play Cunningham until the Battlestar Galactica schedule got in the way. Instead Olmos plays Captain Garcia, who wants desperately to try and rescue Cunningham but finds it a losing battle, using Gramm as a tool to achieve this.
Enrique Almeida plays "Dusty" as a vulnerable man that is unaware of his true nature. He is a good person, at the core, but ultimately does bad things in the course of doing what he thinks is just. Ivonne Coll plays his mother, who has seen her fair share of violence in the neighbourhood and loves her sons.
The lives of the gang members are far from straightforward and the stereotypes that we’re normally forced to watch. Despite the potential for violence, the movie shows the gang members as human beings that love their mum and question their motives, at times.
The characters are playing emotional games with each other and that becomes apparent with Vanessa and the way she treats her men, and how they treat her. The depth of the relationship between Dreamer and his mother illustrates how much time and trouble was put into this sincere script. Dreamer's relationships through his mother and Vanessa portray the human side that is sometimes lacking in lesser movies that tackle similar subjects.Hector Atreyu Ruiz as "Trigger" is more towards what we would assume is a stereotype. He has a hair trigger, and as Delilah Cotto says (who plays Vanessa);
"You never know what Trigger will do"
Ruiz plays Trigger as a man who has natural leadership abilities but has made a choice to follow a certain way of doing things, whereas the gang don't necessarily embrace violent impulses and often look to deal with things differently.
The style and look of the movie is what helps to drive the plot forward and give the feeling of a taut thriller. Given that the movie is made partly by Dark Horse productions, it’s only fitting that the credits are artistic and reminded me of the Tim Bradstreet drawn adaptation of the original opening of The Punisher, starring Thomas Jane. Dreamer’s flashbacks are impressive as are the visualisations of Gramm. There was no CSI style CGI in the latter representations and it worked all the better for it. Olmos directs confidently and with a skill that could put him in the same league as Michael Mann and Ridley Scott someday. This might seem over the top praise but the film looks beautiful. The night scenes are handled extremely well and the opening city scene reminded me of Collateral, almost immediately.
The action scenes also have a comic book feel to them, but this style does not get in the way of the story telling, it only serves to enhance the dramatic.
"His films will speak clearly on the subject matter that he really understands" - Edward James Olmos
A satisfying film that hits all the right buttons. Anybody that likes films like Harsh Times or TV shows like The Shield and The Wire will probably enjoy this movie. It has a depth and style missing from most movies of this type, but it doesn't get bogged down in unnecessary exposition like some. Olmos has crafted a movie to be proud of, with the collaboration of Almeida and Cruz and the freedom given to them by Dark Horse.I just hope that Almeida and his Mother managed to stay in their house after using money to promote the original script.
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