Smith may not impress on a technical level, but it’s filled with a genuine love for filmmaking and deserves to be checked out.
With the rise of the portable cell phone over the last two decades, we have subsequently seen a rise in independent films. When everyone has a camera in their pocket, great films can quite literally come from anywhere. We’ve seen Sean Baker’s Tangerine make a big impact while being completely filmed on an iPhone 5s, while Steven Soderbergh has gradually transitioned to other Apple products for filming Unsane and High Flying Bird. This new era of independent filmmaking can be seen as a natural extension of the indie boom of the 1990s that gave rise to Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and Kelly Reichardt. With his debut feature Smith, writer/director Jaron Lockridge has established himself as an upcoming talent worthy of support.
Shot around the Memphis Tennessee area with a local cast and crew, Smith plays out like a fairly standard crime thriller with hints of film-noir. AJ Smith (Larry Triplett) is a private investigator who is tired of investigating white-collar crime and yearns for a truly interesting case. His wish comes true when a woman visits him and asks him to investigate her husband, the district attorney, and possible criminal. In classic detective fashion, Smith grapples with whether or not to become involved with what could be a dangerous situation, but is forced to accept when a mysterious woman begins wreaking havoc. None of these beats are especially original, Lockridge wears his influences on his sleeve in both plot points and dialogue, but the mystery is engaging enough to keep our attention.
The second half of the film takes everything present in the first half and turns it to 11. Smith stumbles across a conspiracy much larger than anticipated, and new characters flood the narrative posing new danger, complicating the situation while those closest to him reveal their true intentions. The plot twists and turns, keeping us on our toes as it barrels towards an inevitable conclusion. Scenes are bathed in neon yellow and purple with the look of a professional. It’s a bonkers ending that strays towards the ridiculous, but never quite loses believability thanks to the setups in the first act.
From the outset, it is clear that Smith did not have a large budget. But rather than taking away from the experience, it offers a certain charm to the film and keeps its atmosphere consistent throughout. Having the villains of the story live in a bare house may be a puzzling choice but could also serve to illustrate their lack of motivation to attain a normal life. The fractured editing and random close-ups represent the fractured narrative and mistake Smith makes, focusing on the wrong threads while the evidence lies just out of reach. It’s clear that Lockridge and Co did the best they could with the materials available, and it would be interesting to see what could be made with a bigger budget. It’s a fun little crime thriller with a few good twists and a cast and crew that clearly love what they’re doing, and for that alone it is worth supporting.
Smith will be screened at the Indie Memphis Film Festival today: click here to get your ticket.
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