Description (from the DVD insert):
A family man and some-time drug dealer, Joe (Phil Gwilliam) crosses the crime boss he works for in hope of earning himself some extra money. Unfortunately for Joe though, his employer is Mr. Trent (Doug Bradley) – a man whom you should never upset.
None (Online Screener)
When I was contacted by Mike Clarke to review his first film in 15 years, A HAND TO PLAY, I was immediately interested. I’m always up for checking out stuff from a filmmaker I’ve never seen before, it also helps that it’s from the UK and I love getting a different perspective on film that a trip “across the pond” can provide. All of that aside though, it was this line from his email that made me seriously, SERIOUSLY interested: “It stars Doug Bradley who famously played Pinhead in the Hellraiser series.” Doug. Fucking. Bradley.
AHtP is a quick (just under 12 minutes) crime thriller that manages to pack a lot of punch in a truncated running time. Joe has messed up, and has gone outside his normal chain of supply for his latest score. Mr. Trent – that normal chain of supply – is obviously a bit upset about this transgression, and has brought Joe in for a discussion that will be allowed to “take its natural path.” Of course, things aren’t quite that easy as talking your way out of a problem with someone like that. Mr. Trent offers a solution to this gambler who thought that he just wouldn’t get caught playing the field: “a hand for a hand.” “There must be some other way,” pleads Joe. “I’m sure there is, but I like it this way,” responds Mr. Trent in that über-dry and super scary British I’m-a-gangster-and-a-gentleman sort of way.
The production quality on AHtP is very nicely done. The video is very nice and crisp (I wish this wasn’t a screener online, I wish I had a Blu-Ray because there was some pixilation that I think was all coding to online issues that would probably not appear on a disc) and the lighting is very well done. I really liked the color palate used in the film, it gives the visuals a depressed feel, and the green of the table brings to mind Las Vegas and high stakes. The music was pretty well done too; I did find it a bit repetitive overall, but it did do a good job of building and heightening suspense until it started to sound a bit too much all the same. The script itself just ok; this plot is nothing no one has not seen before. Small-time crosses big-time, big-time threatens small-time with harm to himself and family, big-time offers simple bet to get out of the problems that may or may not solve anything. Nothing new there. However, what I did really like about the script was the dialogue; there is a lot of witty back and forth, and especially the heavy lines that Bradley gets to deliver in his oh-so-scary way that are just dead on.
I did have a few issues with the film as well. First off, the description of the film has Joe as a drug dealer, but from watching the film I got the impression he was just a consumer of drugs supplied by Mr. Trent, and that confused me. I understand brand loyalty and whatnot, but I was wondering how over the top psycho must this dealer be to be punishing his customer for buying somewhere else; it was not until I read the description from the DVD insert that I really understood truly what was going on. Secondly, in such a short, taut thriller, with such crisp visuals (especially the credit sequences that seemed way too big-budget for this film), I really expected a lot more visual punch out of the one little bit of violence AHtP presents its viewer; when you finally get what it has to show you, I was really under-whelmed. Finally, the end. There is a “twist” that I’m not going to give away (‘cause maybe you’ll like it more than I did), but I really didn’t think that it added anything to AHtP, and to me really felt like it was just a twist for the sake of a twist ending. As soon as I saw it, the parody of M. Night Shyamalan from ROBOT CHICKEN declaring “What a twist!” rang forth in my head.
Overall, I really liked AHtP. It is a very well made, well paced, nicely delivered crime thriller that really doesn’t do anything new but does do it in fun ways. AHtP takes really good advantage of Bradley’s acting chops that are so indelibly hidden in our psyches under makeup and nails, and reminds me that this man can be really damned scary without dressing up in bandage gear or having such sights to show me. It makes me interested to see what else Clarke will do in the future, and glad that this man returned to filmmaking.
Overall 7 / 10
AHtP on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2754650/
AHtP is not for sale.