Skillful independent films are usually able to invigorate audiences with their thoughtful characterizations, clever storytelling techniques and visionary style. With few beeps and whistles, these little-engines-that-could need to excel on the most basic levels of filmmaking in order to succeed.
Missing Pieces, made for a mere $80,000 by a 22-year-old filmmaker, is a startlingly put-together debut feature that boasts impressive acting, a clever story and slick look. It’s not perfect and certainly shows a few rookie mistakes, but Missing Pieces is mostly a precious gem worthy of a larger audience. To date, the movie is in the process of finalizing its distribution deals.
Mark Boone Junior, of Memento and TV’s Sons of Anarchy, plays David Lindale, a troubled man with a mysterious past. He’s recently broke up with his girlfriend of many years, and he can’t seem to gather the enthusiasm to get off the couch and win her back. Because of his fractured mind, which may be the result of a previous head trauma, he takes the nonsensical step of kidnapping two teenagers with the hopes that they will fall in love under his care and that he may learn a thing or two about their humanity.
At its most basic, the premise for Missing Pieces sounds like another Hollywood gorefest courtesy of some guy who had some tertiary connection to the Saw or Hostel franchises. But the 117-minute film, written and directed by Kenton Bartlett, never travels the horror-genre journey. Instead, David and his kidnapped guinea pigs (played convincingly and innocently by Daniel Hassel and Taylor Engel) come off as sentimental victims stuck in dull existences. After a while, one forgets that David has kidnapped these two teenagers and is filming their every spoken word and movement.
The inevitable relationship that builds between Daylen (Hassel) and Maggie (Engel) is treated with such a distinctive preciousness that it feels purely organic. Sweet acoustic songs play in the background as the two learn about each other and slowly move closer physically and emotionally. There’s one sequence when the two go boating on a lake, which Bartlett is able to film with a pastoral wholesomeness that feels sweet and romantic.
As this love is fostered, David tries to rekindle a relationship with his girlfriend, played by Melora Walters. Just as the two young lovers are finding inspiration and connection, David is sadly unable to mimic their actions. These parallel stories are what gives Missing Pieces its tug-of-war storytelling technique. Boone and company are able to sell their parts without coming off sappy or melodramatic.
Not everything is perfect.
The movie is edited in a needlessly frenetic manner. Many of the scenes are chronologically out of order and the quick cuts can often become dizzying. Bartlett, who is certainly a filmmaker to follow, will soon learn that less is more. Getting in the way of his creations holds them back from fully blossoming on the screen.
However, for a feature debut, Missing Pieces is a touching portrait of wayward lives in search of connection. Don’t judge this book by its cover. It’s much more than a deranged horror movie. Somehow, despite its far-fetched plot, it finds a palpable humanity.By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Written and directed by Kenton Bartlett
Starring Mark Boone Jr., Melora Walters, Daniel Hassel and Taylor Engel
Running time: 117 minutes
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