Strings (2011)

US / 98 minutes / color with some bw / Pad Thai, Sperry, The Orchard Dir & Pr: Mark Dennis, Ben Foster Scr: Mark Dennis Cine: Mike Simpson Cast: Billy Harvey, Chris Potter, Elle LaMont, Karl Anderson, Jack Lee, Olivia Draguicevich, Daniel Dasent, Phillip Yeager, Gary Chason, Larry Dodson, Jenny Star Shackleton, Joe Azzato, Cheryl Bliss, Diane Bernard, Spencer Greenwood, Freddy Joe Odiorne, Tony Bottorff, Steve Muccini, Richard Dodwell.

Billy (Harvey) is a struggling singer–songwriter and Chavine (LaMont) is an artist, so they’re broke. When they have a daughter who sickens in infancy, they can’t afford the medical bills and she dies. Chavine hits the bottle; Billy looks for counseling, taking up with the radical therapist Jack (Lee).

Jack Lee as Jack.

But Jack’s outfit is in part a recruitment agency for a far more shadowy enterprise—a sort of SWAT team for hire—run by the ruthless Desky (Dasent). The core rule is that, once you join up, you must sever all strings with the past: Jobs, Friends, Home, Family, Identity. Billy, now given a new moniker, Jimmy (oh! the imagination!), must never try to see Chavine again, under penalty of death for both him and her.

Elle Lamont as Chavine.

Reckoning that their crumbling relationship is just waiting for one of them to have the courage to walk away, Billy/Jimmy accepts the terms, even though Jack gives him a grim warning:

Jack: “But no one can change completely. Everyone goes back eventually. And everyone pays.”

That’s Strings’s setup.

But this is a movie of two halves. After Billy/Jimmy compromises his identity during an otherwise successful venture—the team frees a passel of kidnapped kids from the clutches of child pornographers—Desky wants to put him down as a security risk. However, Jack persuades Desky instead to let Billy/Jimmy have plastic surgery, after which, played by a different actor, he becomes a completely new person, Jimmy (Potter).

Billy Harvey as Billy.

Chris Potter as Jimmy.

Eight years later, though, Jimmy is still thinking about Chavine, and he tracks her down to the piano store she runs with husband Rex (Yeager). Jimmy hits it off immediately with their daughter Lilly (Draguicevich), and soon becomes part of the family.

Olivia Draguicevich as Lilly.

When Desky learns of this, he sends hitman Ray (Chason) to tidy things up, so to speak . . .

The latter stages of Strings contain a couple of splendid volte-faces, one of them involving Billy/Jimmy’s fellow-mercenary Karl, aka Cleveland Trombone (Anderson); despite not appearing in my outline sketch above, Karl/Cleveland is actually a pretty important character in the plot. He welcomes Billy/Jimmy into the fold and soon they’re best buds:

Karl: “If you’re not there, that’s one less friend I’ve got watching my back if the shit gets runny.”

An interesting metaphor.

Karl Anderson as Karl.

It’s an open secret among the other mercenaries (but not Desky) that Karl/Cleveland regularly violates Desky’s prime directive to visit his son, the kid for whose benefit he took this job in the first place. It’s the one real plot hiccup in the movie that we don’t learn why Desky has never uncovered this gross violation of the rules.

Daniel Dasent as Desky.

Although I’ve covered a few mediocre indies on this site, by and large I’ve been lucky in my designedly haphazard choice. With Strings I feel I’ve been more than lucky: it’s the kind of movie that gives B-features a good name. I have no quibbles with any of the performances, with the standouts being those of Olivia Draguicevich, as the poppet, and Chris Potter, as Jimmy/Billy, who succeeds admirably in recreating the somewhat deadpan rendition by Billy Harvey of Billy/Jimmy. Mike Simpson’s cinematography is quite staggeringly beautiful in places, especially in a couple of brief interludes featuring bird life.

The soundtrack contains some great songs, many of them come from members of the cast and crew; the one that could be regarded as the movie’s theme tune, “The Great Escape,” is written and performed by Billy Harvey, while Chris Potter contributes four of the other numbers.

Strings won or was nominated for a bunch of film festival awards, most notably winning Best Showcase Feature at the SoHo International Film Festival. It’s a shame it didn’t receive a wider distribution.

4 thoughts on “Strings (2011)

  1. What makes Jack and Desky think a grieving struggling singer–songwriter would be a good recruit for “a sort of SWAT team for hire”? Are all the other members similarly surprising? Or do we just have to accept that for the sake of the story?

    • I think the motivation is desperate poverty and/or the potential recruit’s sense of having nothing to live for. But it’s a while since I watched the movie so it’s possible I’m misremembering!

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