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Treed Murray (2001)

by on 2012/07/17

“It all flows back, you know.”

* * * *

Four years before Treed Murray came out, David Hewlett starred in Cube. Both Canadian features apparently sidestep the need for big budgets by placing their action in essentially one location. Where the latter took place in a series of nearly identical indoor rooms, the former occupies a park, around a large tree.

The small ensemble cast ebbs and flows in various permutations, circling its base as Murray Roberts (Hewlett) perches within it. They threaten and attack him, and he does the same in return, but who is the true antagonist, who is the predator?

Set in Toronto, Treed Murray is a microcosmic class struggle between an arrogant ad exec, and the punks he provokes and dismisses. Which is not to suggest simplicity in dividing “good” guys from the “bad”. Nobody here lacks sin, nor the possible chance of redemption.

Aaron Ashmore of Smallville might be the best-known face in the cast, and yet his fellow gang members are equally compelling: Cle Bennett, Kevin Duhaney, Jessica Greco, and Carter Hayden. Julian Richings, also of Cube, plays a drifter with a prophetic line.

This piece is one of words, of ideas, of shifting loyalties. Each side sows discord by engaging the other, getting dirty just being involved. While confidences rise and fall on the path to a denouement, don’t expect any pat answers or sudden communions, for it’s also a work of specious reasonings, ellipses, and ambiguities.

If I seem evasive in my description, well, it’s a Rorschach kind of film. I could say, “Some desperate kids shake down a suit, get his briefcase, and screw up his life”, but that synopsis would sell the true value short. Murray missing a business meeting shouldn’t really matter to us, and even his threatened marriage is a means to an end. That end, however, will be different depending on who’s doing the watching.

When I began the movie, I was jotting down notes like this: “I imagine I’d also laugh if a kid tried to hustle five bucks from me” or “Handing over his wallet and watch was his first, maybe biggest, mistake” or “If the kids had flares with them, then why not torch the tree?”

As time went on I gradually found it more like Twelve Angry Men, a portrait of mob mentality, peer pressure, reputation, and entitlement. It prompted my leaping to conclusions which I later on rethought. It had me asking myself some uncomfortable questions.

Sure the stock looked faded, washed out, too many close-ups were distracting, and the music lyrics were a little too on the nose. Overall, however, little got in the way of the ideas the story explored, and I didn’t feel I was lectured about right and wrong.

Personally, conflict is something I avoid, so this disparate group forced together was not an experience I especially enjoyed. Watching their tug-of-war vivisection was discomfiting, disturbing, and unpleasant. Thought provoking, yes, but issues are not entertainment as such.

* * * *

Rated 14A

89 minutes

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