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Shotplayer Review: Visually Striking Short Doc

Wilfred Rose looks at his own reflection in the documentary short film Shotplayer

Shotplayer is a gritty, honest documentary. It utilizes impressionism to pair a unique visual journey with a profound story of leaving pickpocketing behind.

“I know what I was doing was wrong, but I just called it a means of survival.”

Wilfred Rose has started sleeping better these days. After getting married, having kids, and leaving his life of pickpocketing behind, he recounts the technicalities of stealing from people on the subway and in the streets of Times Square, New York. Shotplayer is a thought-provoking documentary short about one of New York’s most infamous pickpockets. It goes deeper than merely explaining what pickpocketing is like, as Rose shares his life story and begs the question, “when is it okay to take a little to survive?”

Shotplayer is quite unique from a visual standpoint. Many documentaries are crisp, clean, and focused on their subjects, but this film draws heavily on impressionist filmmaking to nurture a distorted and raw look into the mind of a criminal. Though he did get caught and pay the consequences for stealing, the film shows how personal Rose is: he has needs and emotions just as everyone else, but he was left behind by society.

After his mother passed away at a young age and his father abandoned him, Rose felt he only had two options: join the military or “play the shots.” Shotplayer—a term used by mutual pickpockets—starts in the aftermath of Rose’s pickpocketing career. He explains that pickpocketing can be many things: a skill, a crime, an addiction, and a means of survival. For him, it was all of them.

The score balances Shotplayer’s visual style well. It is piano-driven and inspired by jazz, which brings a somber tone to the otherwise frantic and tense experience. As a dramatized reenactment of Rose’s theft in New York, much of the 22-minute documentary is serious and contemplative. He acknowledges the impact of a life of pickpocketing on trust in his relationships with his wife and kids. He laments that his guilt follows him even decades after breaking the habit.

Wilfred Rose stands in a corridor of the New York Subway in the documentary short film Shotplayer
Shotplayer (Gummy Films, SXSW 2024)

Sam Shainberg’s directing is good in this film, as the short runtime is utilized to create the sense of longing that Rose has to move from his past into the future. The viewer gets a good understanding of his story, but is also left with the question of how he fares in the present day. However, I would have liked to see this as a feature-length film. Different aspects of pickpocketing could have been explored, and perhaps more background on Rose’s personal life could have been given. Nevertheless, Shainberg’s use of the time is effective.

Shotplayer is a gritty and honest documentary that doesn’t just focus on the intricacies of pickpocketing in New York, but also studies the impact of society on one man trying to survive and provide for his family.

Shotplayer will be screened at SXSW on March 10-13, 2024, as part of the festival’s “Documentary Short Program 2” screening. Read our SXSW reviews and our list of films to watch at SXSW 2024!

Shotplayer Teaser Trailer (Willie Miesmer)
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