There will likely be a small audience for this artistic little cinematic treasure SHADOWS AND LIES, but while the audiences crowd in line for the multi-million dollar retreads of comic book heroes and potty mouth 'guy or chick flicks' it is reassuring that there are experimentalists like writer/director/editor Jay Anania and his pupil, the multitalented James Franco who continue to push the edge of cinema and create the challenges of this jewel-like film.
Anania opens his film with a dark in medias res raw episode that quickly moves to an image of Joseph (James Franco) missing his flight to Japan because he steps out of line to retrieve a book. The plane crashes, killing everyone on board, and that opens the doors for Joseph to move to Manhattan to have a new life: he becomes William Vincent, a strange loner/drifter who has a job editing nature films for schools in a sparse storefront abode and also performs petty crimes. What gradually becomes apparent is that we maybe re-visiting what happened four years ago: William Vincent, a quiet and mysterious criminal, falls for a New York gangster's (Josh Lucas) favorite call girl Ann (Julianne Nicholson), after performing some 'deliveries' arranged by one Victor (Martin Donavan). When William's feelings are discovered Vincent is forced to flee the city, threatened with death if he should ever return. But after four years in exile (? in Japan), William secretly returns to rescue Ann from the life of derision and fear she is leading. There are quirky moments in the film where William is in the park and 'sees and talks to' two young brothers - Ty and Lewis played by Ty and Lewis Anania - who may simply be a part of William's previous existence as Joseph. But it is this very disturbing interchange of time sequences that makes the film so powerful - are we watching the now or are we watching the then, and if we are seeing the past, how does the ending make sense? Another observer states it this way: 'The story of William Vincent as he recounts the eccentric and curious path that has brought him, at mortal risk, to New York City, after four years in exile, to rescue a woman he scarcely knows, Ann, from the vague crime syndicate that first brought them together.'
Franco is disturbingly brilliant as this strange character Joseph/William and the scenes that simply sit in silence with Franco barely outlined by terrific lighting effects or interacting in spare dialogue with Ann or Victor or the Boss are visually and emotionally stunning. The cinematography by Daniel Vecchione is moody, dark and always appropriate in adding mystery to the story. John Medeski's musical score is primarily a few piano notes and the wheezing sounds of an odd organ (melodica) instrument played by a street person. It all simply works as a brilliant film. Some may label this 'film noir': it is more like experimental 'noir film noir' at every level. Grady Harp, July 11