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Six Reasons Why (2008)

by on 2012/06/28

“You boys should have packed a bit more for this trip.”

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A part of me is itching to list out “Six Reasons Why Not” but this ambitious misfire deserves more respect than dismissal for the sake of wordplay.

I’ve said before (Gunless) how Canadian features, especially those in English, have an uphill climb in their cultural competition, and must employ different means to achieve their ends. I’ve also noted they can’t compete with better production values. Well, Six Reasons Why is a good cautionary tale against taking the opposite approach. It over-resources its technical craft, to its ultimate detriment.

The end result gets kudos for being original, if it’s hardly a great success. Despite some clever bits here and there, it simply doesn’t gel. It’s a ponderous, lumbering, random assortment of western iconography, connected by prosumer level sizzle.

Set in an unspecified future, or an alternate reality, Six Reasons’ world reminded me of H. G. Wells’ classic Time Machine. In fact, its characters likewise lack “proper” names. They are designated Criminal, Entrepreneur, Nomad, Preacher, and Sherpa. They are accustomed to sushi, monorails, and zeppelins, yet wear gallon hats and fight with vintage pistols. Just don’t go in expecting The Book of Eli, Jeremiah, The Postman, or steampunk.

Early on, four of the players are trapped in a standoff of sorts. One by one, we examine each man, doubling back to review their histories. Ultimately, six bullets will fly, and the truth will be revealed. Oddly, I was surprised the flashbacks didn’t happen in the wake of shots fired, as in the short “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”.

In the meantime, the leads seem desperate to appear philosophical, meditating awkwardly on such topics as belief, killing, and remorse. Their dialogue, unfortunately, is painfully “cute” and self-conscious.

Every. Line! And. Action! Is. So. Significant!

At least, that’s what they mistakenly believe.

It’s one of those ongoing frustrations where I caught myself wondering whether the fault is in the script, the actors, or both. If they’d pushed it farther and played it straighter, I might have found it worked as comedy, but they didn’t, and it wasn’t funny even — or especially — when it tried to be.

Any efforts to be mature feel forced and, ironically, juvenile. A wanderer intentionally unzipping his fly, casually drinking his urine, and defaulting to a relentless obnoxiousness. Various scenes of “ultraviolence” are similarly belaboured, misguided, needy, and unremarkable.

Lensed in Drumheller, Alberta, and several parts of Ontario, the locations show potential for a distinctive Canadian western. Too often, however, the attempts to disguise an absence of grandeur are obvious . . . in the lingering shots of the ground, sky, or sun, lacking a view of the horizon, and the interminable, recurring close-ups of the actors.

The directors are apparently aware of the limitations, and further try to hide them with effects. Indeed, you could say the style is a character in and of itself although, in this case, it’s even more memorable, relatively speaking. Every preset on the board is here: black and white, colour timing, compositing, painted frames, false grain, jump cuts, jump fades, match fades, sepia tones, silhouettes, slow motion, split screens, whiteouts, and wipe transitions. I felt I was watching a cross between Quick and the Dead and 300.

Perhaps my strongest take-away was, “These guys should be doing music videos.” Which is not to be insulting or diminish their abilities. With a modus operandi less Tony Scott than Anton Corbijn, the filmmaking Campagna brothers might bring to bear their crafting strength without falling to artistic weakness.

Of Six Reasons Why as a whole, I can only say I’m sorry, I really wanted to like it. I searched for all the justifications I could to recommend it, but the striking visuals were not enough, overall. It’s interesting as an exercise in looking slick on a budget or, alternately, as a well-funded student film.

* *

Rated R

89 minutes

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