get it out of the way - 11:55 is derivative. It's a showdown
film. Showdown films have a simple plot device and story line: the protagonist
is threatened and driven by angst, "Should I stay or should I go?"
The antagonist is driven by rage and revenge and has clear intentions. The
characters' reasons vary from film to film but the premise is the same. You've
seen films like that hundreds of times. Welcome to 11:55.
no shame in dragging out an old chestnut. William Shakespeare never came up
with an original story
line either. Co-director Ben Snyder admitted to the fact that the film's title
was inspired by High Noon. But this film, which had its world
premiere recently at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is the first directorial
effort of Ari Issler and Snyder.
Sanchez (co-screenwriter Victor Almanzar) is a returning Afghan War veteran. We
first meet him as we silently ride the bus home to Newburgh, New York. His earlier- than -expected arrival threatens to throw big sister Angie's party
plans awry. Chased out of the house, he surprises his long time girlfriend
Livvy for some quality time before acting dutifully surprised at the party.
There we meet many of Nelson's friends, some of whom are guys he ran drugs with
before entering the service. Nelson is a troubled man with a troubled past. He
escaped the mean streets where he grew up by joining the military - after he
accidentally killed a dealer from rival gang. His former protégé on the
streets, Teyo, breaks the news to him at the party: Nicky Quinn is coming.
Quinn is the older brother of the gangbanger killed by Nelson and he is out for
revenge. He arrives in town on the, you know it, 11:55 bus.
happy homecoming day suddenly turns sour. His plans did not include dealing
with actions from his distant past. Whatever he experienced in the war has
changed him. His sister and girlfriend convince him to run, make a new life in
Boston. But when Nelson and Livvy run into a couple of Quinn's goons at the bus
station, Nelson takes a stand - he's not going to run away this time; he's
going to stay and face what's in store.
The city of Newburgh,
for Nelson Sanchez, turns out to be a lot like Gary Cooper's Hadleyville.
Although he has an abundance of friends, like Cooper’s beleaguered sheriff of High Noon, none will commit to stand
with him in his hour of need. His efforts exhausted, he does what any
knowledgeable sacrificial lamb would do: he gets a haircut. This
is a gritty, moving film filled with a terrific supporting cast. Newburgh
should get credit as well. It once ranked in the 20 most dangerous communities
in the US and has been plagued by gang violence and drugs for years. It
provides a solid backdrop for the film's authenticity.
Almanzar shines as Nelson Sanchez. There's not a doubt in the viewer's mind as
to what Sanchez is thinking at any given time and Almanzar makes the viewer empathize with his plight. He is soulful and deep and you care about what he's been
through and where he's going. Hopefully, Almanzar has a promising future in
film. Elizabeth Rodriguez is scary and soft, sexy and tough as Angie, especially when she
threatens the "Greek chorus" of Nelson's cowardly friends in the barbershop
with a razor. Livvy,
as portrayed by Shirley Rumierk, is the dutiful girlfriend. She's torn between
supporting her man's choice and saving his life.
veteran actors lend some great turns in character roles. David Zayas is
Maurice, Nelson's former "Godfather" from his drug dealing days who'd
rather feed his pigeons than lend a hand. John Leguizamo, as Nelson's
wheelchair-bound, former marine buddy, is the only one willing to stand with
him. Yes, pun intended. He and Julia Stiles, as Nicky Quinn's pregnant wife
bring some terrific comic relief into the film. Her brief rant at Quinn as he
ignores her wishes and resumes his gang persona in order to avenge his brother
is hysterical. It also teaches us the differences caused by the effects of
serotonin and dopamine on the human brain. Mike
Carlsen in his brief screen time as Nicky Quinn is a threatening presence, a
subtle villain whose motivation may not be what it seems. And I can't leave out
Smarlin Hernandez. As Daiza, Nelson's niece and Angie's daughter, she portrays,
with honesty, the warring emotions teenagers feel about the person they both
love and hate the most in their life.
"11:55" is a modern-day, East-coast
Western. I expect to see more great things from those involved in this
production. Film history tells us that America won the West a long time ago but
it is in our smaller cities, those impoverished, under-employed, landscapes and
vistas where today's stories lie. There, real battles continue to be fought on
a daily basis by residents who wish little more than to live safely, securely
and in peace. This film tells just one of those stories.