Man from Reno full movie review - Terrific filmmaking with subtle beauty
This is an exceptional piece of cinema in ways obvious and not so obvious.
It can be especially appreciated by native Californians, although that's not necessarily a prerequisite to enjoy the film.
The plot captures your interest from the opening scenes of a driver carefully navigating his way through fog on a lonely road, but hitting a pedestrian in spite of his caution. To the surprise of both the audience and the driver, who stops and gets out of the car to assist, the victim gets up and runs away, disappearing into the fog.
True to the film noir tradition, this is just the first in a whole series of mysterious occurrences, some of which are eventually resolved, and some which are not. This keeps the viewer guessing not only during the film, but after he/she leaves the theater. Your attention is focused all during the film, although a few of the less important plot points are so convoluted, you never do figure them out.
Never mind, there is great beauty in the film, thanks to carefully thought out direction by Dave Boyle and the extraordinary skill of the cinematographer, Richard Wong. In shot after shot, the collaboration of the director and his cinematographer results in images perfectly composed. The cinematographer, who is based in San Francisco, obviously has a great feeling and appreciation for both interiors and exteriors of this exceptional city. Even more impressive to this native Californian is his feel for the state's subtle beauty outside of its famous urban areas.
There are the icons familiar to all: San Francisco's Victorian architecture, fascinating waterfront, hilly skyline and impressive bridges. Less familiar are the sparsely-populated areas of the California countryside, with rolling hills, winding roads, and occasional trees. The muted color palette and quiet beauty in these areas of the state may not have the majesty and impact of San Francisco or Yosemite, but they can have their own unique appeal just the same. It's obvious that the cinematographer and director understand this and wisely included some of these kinds of scenes in their opus.
They also maximize the beauty of their lead actress, Ayako Fugitani, not only with the cinematography, but also in collaboration with the individual responsible for her elegant attire, costume designer Irene Chan. Ms. Fugitani's affluent chic look is evidence that great care and thought went into in how she was to be presented. And of course her expert hairstyling and make up work was icing on the cake. My guess is that she has never looked better since she began her acting career two decades ago.
Welcome also is the humanity of the portrayal of the sheriff by veteran actor Pepe Sema. His sincerity and smooth professionalism ? over 40 years as an actor - is reflected in his work in this film.
Also admirable - and unusual - is the attempt to accurately portray two complete different cultures, Japanese and American, in the same film without relying on stereotypes or preconceived ideas that the audience might have. The director's previous work has involved having a foot in both cultures, and this film demonstrates how well he has honed his expertise.
Speaking of expertise, the film, which was shot digitally on a modest budget, but doesn't look like it, is a terrific example of how today it is possible to make a film with superb production values because excellent tools are more accessible than they ever have been in history of filmmaking. You don't need a studio and the associated overhead. The tools for capture - cameras, lenses, and lighting - are so good and so portable, they can literally be used anywhere under any conditions. And you can work with minimal crew, which minimizes the risk of disruption when working on location.
It's the same story with post-production, where filmmakers spend far more time refining their story than they spent shooting it. The editing capability of the computers and software available today is phenomenal, even if you only have a modest budget. Just ask the director, who has been editing professionally for years.
The film noir efforts of 70 years ago still stand up well when it comes to the storyline, but when it comes to the production values . . . well, you really appreciate all the progress that has been made since. "Man from Reno" is a superb example of that progress.
I look forward to seeing more work from this director and his team of very talented collaborators.