Blu-ray Review: Parts Per Billion (2014)

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In his overly ambitious yet ultimately overwrought feature-filmmaking debut, writer/director Brian Horiuchi takes an Altman meets Iñárritu style approach to his end of the world tale of three couples whose romantic relationships are put to the test on the brink of a biomedical weapon hastened apocalypse.

Filled with confounding edits and nonsensical transitions that frequently lead us forward and backward in time before we’ve even begun to get our bearings straight, Horiuchi’s meandering work moves so awkwardly from one place, point-of-view and time to the next that we’re left with a knotted yarn we can hardly unravel as opposed to the poetic tapestry I believe he was attempting to weave. 

Nonetheless, to his immense credit and future promise as a storyteller, Horiuchi utilizes a clever foundation with which he begins to build his narrative.

For contrary to their initial introduction as everyday citizens watching events unfold on the news over which they seemingly have no control, we soon realize that the film’s main three couples are not only linked to one another but also to the war-related attack that’s hastened the end of civilization.

While this alone should’ve ensured a promising thriller, tragically Horiuchi uses the lightest of brushstrokes to illustrate this idea rather delving further into a greater exploration of man’s culpability and link to one another on a global scale.

Thus instead of focusing on the actual tangible moral drama inherit in the setup, Horiuchi’s film spends way too much time manufacturing sudsy soap operatic subplots involving marital strife, economic woes and domestic issues that are all in desperate need of a major rewrite.

And while this could’ve proven intriguing if the narrative had perhaps unfolded a bit more conventionally in chronological order, unfortunately by inserting lines of dialogue that don’t even begin to pay off  (or even make sense until much, much later) it all feels very inconsequential when you contrast the petty squabbling with the end-of-the-world framework that should’ve taken precedence throughout.

Moreover although the literary technique might have served the material much better on the page than on the screen, ultimately as a film, the odd priorities of foolish arguments and vague inferences that never fully explain just where the characters are coming from make Billion largely ineffective overall.

A work where certain moments as well as the chemistry of its cast (most notably between Penn Badgley and Teresa Palmer) help keep you watching, all in all there’s not enough for the players to do to sustain your interest for long.

And perhaps sensing that and ultimately giving in, Horiuchi chooses a strange moment for the action to simply end in a cut to credits that feels more like a surrender than a stopping point.

A major letdown for actress Rosario Dawson (who also inexplicably produced this cinematic blunder) as well as Josh Hartnett (who plays her husband in a likewise underwritten role), Parts Per Billion not only fails to generate any empathy or genuine understanding for those two leads but it doesn’t even bother specifying a certain fate for the characters in its bizarre conclusion.

Although Gena Rowlands and Frank Langella help class up Horiuchi’s pretentious misfire, overall it’s one of those mind-boggling, conceptually clever yet half-baked celebrity driven film festival bait movies where one A-list caliber actor signs on and it starts a chain reaction for other under-utilized, talented performers to join the pursuit even if they’re unable to heighten the film based on their charisma alone.

An apocalyptic Altmanesque film that tries to build tension before realizing that there’s nowhere for the movie to go, although Horiuchi’s Parts Per Billion started with an enviable amount of potential, ultimately what we’re left with is less a cohesive work worthy of your time than simply a mismatched collection of its disparate parts.

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