Sundance Review: The Son of No One

The Son of No One
Written and directed by Dito Montiel
Starring Al Pacino, Channing Tatum, Ray Liotta, Katie Holmes, Tracy Morgan, Juliette Binoche, James Ransone, Jake Cherry

Rating: 4.5/10

Dito Montiel, director of “Fighting” and “The Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” returns to Sundance with his attempt at a police drama, using the same type of dual timeline storytelling he’s used in his earlier films. Any hopes that three movies may have improved him as a filmmaker probably should have been left at the door of the Eccles Theater.

When Jonathan was a kid, he lived in the violent and dangerous Queensboro projects and he shot a junkie who was attacking him, then later was involved in the accidental death of another resident. 16 years later, Jonathan is a police office who has been reassigned to the 118th Precinct in Queensboro and all of his childhood troubles seem to be resurfacing as someone has been tipping off the local paper and Jonathan’s captain (Ray Liotta) about his past.

Watching “The Son of No One” in the same theatre where I first saw Antoine Fuqua’s far superior “Brooklyn’s Finest” makes it blatantly obvious how weak Montiel’s third film is. Much of its problems come from a weak premise that makes little sense exacerbated by shoddy direction that fails to establish any sense of realism or urgency, both which would be necessary to maintain the viewer’s interest.

Channing Tatum isn’t bad in his third collaboration with Montiel, but he just doesn’t have very much to do and even less to say as most of the heavy lifting falls upon the young actor who plays Jonathan and isn’t that great, making the flashback sequences particularly grueling to watch. Katie Holmes is grossly miscast as his wife, her scenes with Tatum being even worse than the flashbacks, but Tracy Morgan in a rare dramatic role does a better job playing Jonathan’s slow friend Vinnie in the present day in a way that doesn’t feel forced or comical.

In some of the film’s strangest casting, Juliet Binoche plays the newspaper reporter trying to find the answers to these murders, but her misguided obsession makes you wonder why a reporter (or anyone for that matter) would care so much about the murder of two junkies sixteen years prior? Is there ever supposed to be any mystery that it’s Liotta’s police captain who learned about the murders from a former detective now local politician played by Al Pacino, who barely looks any older than he did in his scenes in ’86? If the police captain was so worried about something an officer at his station did 16 years prior, why even bother bringing him there? These questions might not feel so pressing if Liotta weren’t giving another ridiculously over-the-top performance to try to enhance the relatively weak drama.

The whole thing leads to a climactic confrontation between the characters that uses an odd method of fading to white between scenes that just makes it hard to figure out what’s happening. The film seemingly ends, notifying us that it’s based on a book called “The Story of Milk” (thanks for that!), and then there’s a mystifying epilogue. This unsatisfying ending just leaves you wondering what you just watched, and one’s higher hopes of a Queens local like Montiel delivering any sort of unique perspective on the police drama with “Son of No One” is dashed.

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