Director: Jeff Stanzler
“A head scratcher supreme,” was how Variety’s film critic Robert Koehler described writer/director Jeff Stanzler’s disturbing indie film which played at both the American Film Institute Los Angeles Film Festival as well as the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival. Featuring one of the most underrated and consistently impressive character actresses, Robin Wright Penn in her Independent Spirit Award nominated performance as an alternately sad, mysterious and horrifying New York career woman with a screw loose, Stanzler’s film will remain in the memories of viewers long after it ends. Flying by in a little over eighty minutes, the movie is deceptively set up as a political thriller that soon evolves into an unnerving psychological portrait of post 9/11 paranoia and the way it affects a mentally unstable character several years later. When it begins, we meet Syrian cab driver Ashade (Abdellatif Kechiche) who, despite holding a chemistry Ph.D. in his native country is relegated to spending his time chauffeuring busy New Yorkers in his yellow cab while alternately looking after his sister-in-law and her baby and fighting to get his brother back to the states after he was placed into U.S. custody and sent back to Syria. Penn, who works for the hip hop television station Q-Dog, gets into his cab one evening and turns what may have been just a routine fare into something much more when they become involved in each other’s domestic dramas. Shot in just fifteen days on digital video, the film with its unfortunately forgettable title has since been released by IFC onto DVD (with a wonderful extra featurette with film personalities discussing the movie in a round table conversation hosted by Tim Robbins) and contains some truly awe-inspiring performances by its two leads and supporting players such as Sandra Oh and Elodie Bouchez. However, the low-budget does hinder the overall production value and therefore some of the believability of the piece which veers off into a not entirely successful third act. As the film nears towards a conclusion, structural problems arise that should have been rectified if not in the script process than during the shoot as the ending of the piece seems a bit abrupt and convenient and as Ebert pointed out in his review overly explained and analyzed in one particular speech by Penn that, while delivered phenomenally, seems to make the movie more self-aware. Definitely not a film to watch before bed and one that raises enough questions and shocking arguments that make it ideal for viewing with others or at the very least, you'll want to be sure to explore the DVD’s features to listen to Penn and Stanzler’s commentary track and explore the revealing round table discussion as a few of the points made by Mary Louise Parker and companions help make one see other sides of a few of the more puzzling scenes.