Directed by Alastair Gourlay
Written by Emilio Iasiello and Alastair Gourlay
Starring Clive Russell and Scott Reid
Short Film Review by Euan Franklin
It’s always fun to watch established genres twisted by British filmmakers. Although Westerns and gangster pictures are universal, they can’t escape their popular origins in Hollywood. The acclaimed director Shane Meadows even threw his own spin on the Western genre with Dead Men’s Shoes, made with a social-realist tone. Director Alastair Gourlay has attempted the same with his short film Between a Rock and a Hard Place, snatching scraps of noir and Western and planting them in a desolate part of Scotland.
Neil (Scott Reid) is released from prison after serving 15 years for murder, committed when he was a teenager, and can’t find any work for himself. While attempting to steal some roof tiles, he is caught by the house’s owner Walter (Clive Russell). He takes pity on Neil, and gives him a job maintaining his house while he’s away. Neil’s happy to do it, but becomes suspicious about what Walter does for a living.
Walter is a old, craggy figure who holds big weapons and disconcerting silences, but possesses a loving heart under a hard shell. And, despite being a murderer, Neil also has a deep emotional core. Their relationship is like watching a more heartfelt version of an Irvine Welsh story. The action is constricted to the house – empty, desolate, outside of civilisation – and a little village where Walter receives mysterious calls from an old phonebox. This atmosphere, shrouded in secrets, initially carries our interest in the characters’ purgatorial surroundings. But once the plot comes in, the twists are easy to establish long before they happen on-screen.
Gourlay and co-writer Emilio Iasiello spend half-an-hour exploring these characters – you connect with them and the feelings they keep hidden inside – but builds to an annoyingly long final scene, filled with exposition explaining pretty much everything. Although the backstory is well-constructed and engaging, it’s like a bombardment. As the title suggests, the dialogue is bloated with clichés that the film expects you to take seriously – the final line, in particular (“we’re all caught between a rock and a hard place”), is a dull note to end on – especially after the enormous amount of conflict preceding it.
Gourlay almost gets away with these faults because of his eloquent direction and the moments in the dialogue that are well-written. He maintains a natural, patient pacing, retaining a nice realism between the characters (slightly swayed by the clichés). Reid and Russell work well together, both providing appropriate peformances for their restricted characters – which inevitably explode in emotion.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place is a hard, bleak tale of memory and revenge, but doesn’t hide many surprises. Gourlay and Iasiello clearly have an emotional understanding of their characters, but the plot was weak and obvious. You watch for the characters and not the story.