★★★★ Directed by: Usher Morgan Starring: Elyse Price, Katie Vincent, Joel Bernard, Joe Trombino Indie Film Review by Jack Bottomley
Pain is something most of us strive to avoid but often in life you find pain is unavoidable, so how do you respond? All of us are capable of being driven over the edge by physical, mental or emotional pain but on occasion pain can mould us into something harder, more resilient, and create a survivor. In Pickings, a select few find that out in the most deadly way possible as writer/director/producer Usher Morgan’s beautifully shot noirish criminal thriller is all about endurance on a lot of ways.
The film looks at tough southern family woman Jo Lee-Haywood (Elyse Price), who runs a small bar in town and finds an unexpected fight coming her way in a mobster who has his sights on claiming her neighbourhood business and sends his goons round to bully her into submission.
Opening with a very Quentin Tarantino sequence, which has some excellent dialogue and is a pitch perfect introduction to our lead, you see from the very start that Morgan’s film is absorbingly stylish. The cigarette smoke swirls dance in the rays of light, evoking a Sin City vibe (a vibe furthered later in the story by uses of the word “dame” and a sole character who is in black and white like a monochrome Yellow Bastard), as the story becomes one about a woman scorned and how a violent past catch up no matter how much you try to escape it and move on.
Blending the western genre with a graphic novel-like approach, this Thriller is shot with gusto and violent effectiveness, as the style grasps you but it’s the characters that draw you into the story, which recalls Kill Bill most strongly. In fact, sometimes, this comparison is a bit too heavy but then again Tarantino’s film (or for that matter his career) has been made off homage and this film follows that approach, while also creating some memorable moments of its own. A well-selected and atmospheric soundtrack provides additional kick next to the chic edits, Louis Obioha’s exceptional cinematography (which is grounded in western genre grit and comic-like design) and the lovingly constructed intertextuality.
Like Uma Thurman’s The Bride, Jo is someone who has suffered loss and cut her teeth in a past fuelled by rage and aggression but at the same time, her family life has given her a new chance and Price plays the wounded, conflicted and constantly prepared maternal figure superbly. While excellent support is offered by an impeccably cool Joel Bernard, who rocks as Boone and a brilliant Katie Vincent, as Jo’s eldest daughter Scarlet. Some characters don’t get as big a bite out of proceedings but it is to the credit of the well developed tale being told and the characters themselves, that even those that feel slight, are people we would be eager to find out more about.
Pickings is visually stirring, kick ass and entertaining but not at the expense of a story which does not shy away from the cycle of pain that comes with a life shaped by violence. Director Usher Morgan is certainly a talent to watch and Pickings is confidant filmmaking, which comes across as a product of passion that is well realised onscreen.
Watch the official movie trailer below...