★★ Directed by Lee Chambers Starring Presley Massara, Carl Bailey, Priscilla-Anne Forder, & Wayne V. Johnson, Indie Film Review by Andrew Young
There is something about the Action genre that seems to make it ripe for cliché. The same tropes trotted out again and again and largely similar action played out time after time. It is a trap that is easy to fall into without some deeper observation of character, greater thematic weight or technical flair – visual invention or plenty of wit in the script, for instance. It is a trap that Lee Chambers’ The Pineville Heist sadly falls into. It appears to offer a string of solidly made action sequences and a few twists without doing enough that is new or noteworthy to really elevate the indie film. However, it should be noted that there is the odd moment that transcends the rest of the movie.
The narrative follows high-schooler Aaron (Presley Massara) after he stumbles upon two rather large bags of cash following a robbery at the local bank. He then retreats to his school and spends the rest of the film on the run from Carl Bailey’s snarling villain, whilst trying to protect his teacher Miss Becker (Priscilla-Anne Forder). There is also the added dimension, although sadly not a particularly developed one, of Aaron’s apparent bastard of a father, played by Wayne V. Johnson as an inconsiderate money man who is far more concerned about reclaiming the money taken from him in the heist than by Aaron or his love of acting. It is a theme that feels like it has been taken straight out of Dead Poet’s Society and thrown in to make it seem like the film is not just mindless action. Having said that, it makes Aaron more of an outsider who values his teacher as the only authority figure he can trust, allowing him to become an engaging and likable protagonist. Sadly, this is somewhat hindered by slightly stilted delivery from Massara, although it must be acknowledged that he has to carry the film and doesn’t have much to work with in the way of dialogue. A lot of it is a bit too on-the-nose, meaning that it jars the flow of the film and prevents much chemistry building up between the actors.
It is factors like this that prevent The Pineville Heist from even being a slick-but-generic action picture. The score by Fabio Acri helps the action to zip along nicely for stretches but then at times feels misplaced, the music signalling one tone and the visuals another, which, like the dialogue issues, draws the viewer’s attention away from the high-stakes action unfolding. It is harder to care whether a character lives or dies when we are not fully immersed in their story. It is also harder to care when they are not complex, well-drawn characters with the depth to make us consider their value as people. Chambers and co-writer Todd Gordon plunge straight into the action, making for a lengthily gripping approach, but it is at the expense of the characters.
There are a few social observations early on and the entanglement of money and violence throughout is commendable but for the most part, great complexity isn’t really present, thereby removing genuine drama from the film. One exception to this could be the character who at first seems the most one-note, chief villain Sheriff Tremblay, played with suitable levels of snarl by Carl Bailey. He grunts his threats behind barely concealed violence and there is a lack of articulation present in his character. Take this in conjunction with his first appearance struggling to control a room of smart-ass kids and you have a character who is perhaps masking the pain of being unable to communicate and subtly mocked for it – violence may be his only outlet. Nevertheless, this is not explored in any great detail and gives way to more basic motives later on.
The action itself, which occupies most of the film, is solidly executed, with the odd scene, particularly an early death scene that is full-on in its disturbing content, being more than just “solidly” effective. The school also makes for a nicely claustrophobic location for the narrative to unfold in, particularly so when compared to the beautiful natural expanses of the opening; credit must go to cinematographer David Le May for his shooting of the film.
Perhaps what is key to a film that aims to thrill like The Pineville Heist are the twists the writers throw in there. Here, Gordon and Chambers include a mixture of clever and surprising, somewhat predictable twists and one, right at the end of the film, that is both unexpected and has great implications for the film as a whole. It is a twist which changes our views of the characters and could introduce potentially fascinating themes, but because it happens so quickly before the credits roll, it instead feels like just another plot-twist when it could do with more time to develop and really hit home. Still, it is a surprising ending that merits some praise. However, all in all, The Pineville Heist is a disappointingly mediocre affair that, with some more skill and ingenuity in its delivery, has the makings of a good film. Sadly, without major surgery on the script, it is unlikely ever to be truly great.
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