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06.10.09

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Phaedra

PRINCIPLED KILLER: Tom Sizemore's assassin decides to protect Sasha Alexander's target in 'The Last Lullaby.'

Nocturne

A gunman double-crosses his employer to save a lady in 'The Last Lullaby'

By Richard von Busack


THE CONFIDENT and intelligent indie film The Last Lullaby shames The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3's enormous advertising budget and candy-assed, speculative idea of the gunman's world. You couldn't ask for a better contrast between wretched excess and quiet authority. The Last Lullaby (a standout at Cinequest 2009) has its own share of adding-up problems. It seems to take place in a world without police; twice, corpses are left where they died for someone to find. Still, at this budget-level of filmmaking, The Last Lullaby is very impressive. This adaptation of one of Max Allan Collins' short stories about the hit man Quarry, "A Matter of Principle," is secured by a revelatory performance by Tom Sizemore.

Sizemore's Price is seen in the opening titles, face hanging sleepless in the dark, recalling Martin Sheen's still-in-Saigon moments in Apocalypse Now. With a widow's peak and some heft to the neck, Sizemore is getting to look like Bogart; the difference being the doll-like eyelashes and the modern hipster's slouch. In one of Raymond Chandler's novels, detective Philip Marlowe described Ernest Hemingway as someone who repeats things until they sound good. Sizemore does that too, as if he had a spot of hardness of hearing (maybe from all that gunfire). Price is an insomniac. He rises to do some of the Marlowe things at 3am; he monkeys with a chessboard and looks for a book to read. Out for a trip to the all-night market, he overhears some punks talking about a hostage they've taken. Price follows them to their lair, kills them and takes the girl they kidnapped—and then helps himself to the ransom. Six months later, when the father of the kidnapped girl needs a woman whacked, he tracks Price down. Despite his new retirement from crime, Price agrees to do the assassination for a million dollars. After meeting the victim-to-be, Sarah (Sasha Alexander), something snaps in Price; his exhaustion with his racket leads him to decide to protect Sarah instead of killing her.

Director Jeffrey Goodman lives in Shreveport, where filmmakers often go to get a financial deal from the state of Louisiana. This is the first film I've seen that used the area's anonymity to its advantage. The Last Lullaby has a crisped-out, cold look, with only the chain outlets to help get one's bearings. The players live in new minimansions. The exception is a bar called the Cub, with idiosyncratic neon around it; the colors seep inside the place, highlighting the dreamy connection between Sarah and Price. The film is not crypto-noir otherwise. Goodman seems to be deliberately not trying to go old-fashioned, and Peter Biegen's screenplay is similarly neither florid nor mannered. Yet this first feature film doesn't have lines that would only work on paper. The negative space around this movie gives Sizemore a chance to make his quiet emphasis echo. The concealed nerves are suggested in every scene he's in. Sizemore's great solemnity sells lines I've heard blown more often than any other lines in the independent cinema: "I kill people, OK? I kill people for a living."


Movie Times THE LAST LULLABY (R; 93 min.), directed by Jeffrey Goodman, written by Peter Biegen and Max Allan Collins, photographed by Richard Rutkowski and starring Tom Sizemore, opens June 12.


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