Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Skip Tracer

(Zale Dalen, 1977)
What's not to like about this gloriously sleazy tale of mid-seventies BC repo men? The barrel-scraping production values lead the filmmakers to lean on the real-life sights of down-and-out Vancouver, giving us plenty to look at through the neon-lit darkness and grey foggy daylight. The pace may be deliberate, but the concentration is intense, and the slow build becomes increasingly tight-wound until the sudden illuminating horrors of the finale. While the entire milieu is deeply ugly and mean, there's a persistent undercurrent of grim humour, accompanied at least once by absurd 'funny' music. Dalen never gives up on his characters, finding the humanity in every chump and bully who pops in, choreographing his largely amateurish cast to brilliant effect and giving the anchoring pros the platform they deserve. Ultimately, the film is about systemic corruption and the capacity of moral individuals to leave the machine behind, so that while the ending may seem incongruously feel-good, it is also carefully anticipated and essentially well earned - a brave statement of hope in a hopeless setting, not a capitulating cop-out. And overall, the cinematic craft that undergirds the themes is almost off the charts for a Canadian film - visionary, exciting, and inimitable.

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