20 March 2004 | openeyes
The Passion of the Heist
Two detectives assigned to watch twenty-one security camera tapes of a violent but seemingly open-and-shut jewel heist discover that seeing isn't necessarily believing in this fresh and unique film recently placed in evidence at the DC Independent Film Festival. Sounds like an open-and-shut movie? Not so. This movie has a hook: We never see the detectives. We only hear their running commentary as we watch the tapes along with them. Everything we see is as new to them as it is to us which gives the audience a chance to figure out the crime before them.
"Replay" is a movie where perspective is everything, and the film makers boldly maintain that perspective even if it means letting the movie screen go completely blue, like a home VCR, while the detectives change tapes. They replay some tapes. They slow things down. They speed things up. They sometimes pause a frame to talk about what they are seeing or make a phone call. In a sense, this is the very antithesis of a "motion picture." Yet it works, and not just in some theoretical realm. This film is spared the fate of being an esoteric art house novelty by its wicked sense of humor. The unseen detectives, played by Fisher Stevens and Michael Buscemi, are often very funny -- flailing both the innocent and the guilty, the living and the dead, with their dispassionate, black humor.
Strangely, however, this black humor is symptomatic of either the film's greatest failing or greatest success depending on your point of view. A film's success is usually predicated on the audience's emotional response to the characters, but in "Replay" it is hard to bond emotionally with the characters you see on the screen. I found my normal emotional response, even to the most horrific events, filtered through the dispassionate perspective of the detectives. Real life homicide detectives arrive at the scene of a crime after the violence. They don't see the passion, just the bloody aftermath. Nothing they can do will bring the victims back to life. Their job is to simply put the pieces together and assign blame. That's what they -- and we -- do here. We don't love the people we watch scurrying about the home and office . We don't hate them either. We just study them, hoping that they will give up their secrets. Many police procedurals let you see the world from the detective's perspective, but this film lets you experience it.
Did I solve the crime before the detectives? I'm not saying, but it ultimately doesn't matter. The journey was as entertaining as the destination.