Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Becoming Roman" Review

What do hands do while the master is sleeping? They sleep too, of course. But not tonight. Tonight one of the hands wants to make a change. What ensues when this five-finger slave tries to defy his fate is a near epic fight for life or death. This makes "Becoming Roman" a humorous new take on a very old tale of greed, jealousy, and the lust for power.

One night, Leftie doesn't go to sleep. As soon as Roman, the human he's attached to, closes his eyes, Leftie quickly wakes the Right Hand. Leftie demands changes to what he sees as an unfair balance of power between the two hands. They banter and fight, arguing about the merits of being right verses the unchangeable nature of being left. After all, how can a left hand ever be right?

A struggle breaks out. It quickly comes to blows. The hands are obviously both well trained in the art of combat. They employ a plethora of fighting styles against each other--wrestling, boxing, joint locks, and even the dreaded thumb war technique. The brawl is a violent homage to martial arts films, particularly reminiscent of the legendary final battle in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon. In the end the film asks, when there is dissent among parts of a whole, how can there be a winner?

The comedic timing to this film is delivered through dialogue employing odd rhythms and jerky hand movements from actor Scott Gerard as he plays the arguing appendages. Beyond comedy, references to ancient Rome attempt to give this film about shadow puppets a sense of depth. The symbolism of the left hand being discontent with its position and envious of the status of the right is classically Roman--as in from Rome. The word 'sinister,' after all, comes from the Latin word for 'left' (left handed people of the time were looked down upon). The classical allusions don't stop there. At the end of the final battle, the lead character, Roman asks his hand, "E tu, Leftie?," a take on Caesar's famous dying words, "E tu, Brute?" And, hello! the film is called, "Becoming Roman."

Director Nathan Morse did a fine job of telling this tale of resentment. He certainly built a lot of tension into what was, after all, a fight between two hands. It really seemed like there was a lot going on. One has to wonder, however: We've seen stories about hands who take on a life of their own. We've seen the Cain and Abel story, and all its many incarnations, about a million times. Does combining the two make the story fresh? Do we really need to see what would have happened if Cain and Abel had been conjoined twins?

What works in this story, however, far outweighs any criticism. The filmmakers give an epic feel to a struggle that is ultimately very small. There is enough that is unexpected to keeps the audience's attention. Finally, even from the very first frame the commitments to the story is evident. It takes skill in film making to never miss an opportunity to communicate something to the audience. It will be worth keeping an eye out for future projects from these filmmakers.

In closing, many ancient civilizations believed that our fates were already decided, that they were written in the stars. "Becoming Roman" shows what happens when a someone small tries to rise above his station, tries to change his stars. Leftie learns the hard way that there's always someone bigger in charge.

Check out "Becoming Roman" at SHOCKFEST Film Festival of Hollywood, November 7, 2009 at Cinespace on Hollywood Blvd.

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