Twelve Shorts for the Shortest Month #5: No Chaser (2010)

US / 22 minutes / color plus some sepia / Raw Canvas, True Films, Creative Words & Pictures Dir & Pr & Scr: Mark H. Howard Cine: Robert McEwen Cast: B.D. Mason, Darren Jones, Giovanni Pauletti, Aiesha Dukes, Dwayne Branch, Bill Merker, Vince Sartini, Rhonda Marie Bynum, Mark H. Howard, Ace Funches, Tre’

B.D. Mason as Junior (left) and Darren Jones as Stan

An ambitiously and by and large superbly made short movie whose narrative, with its constantly chopping and changing chronology, might seem confusing to the point of obtuseness were it not for the qualifier displayed during the opening credits:

“Nearly a month ago, after searching the internet, Zach Tucker, Jr., started having a recurring dream about something that happened . . .”

Zach Tucker Sr. (Branch) seems to have been a legend of the Chicago underworld, but he died (we’re not told how) many years ago. Ever since, Zach Tucker Jr. (Mason)—known almost universally as simply “Junior”—has been living in the shadow of his father’s reputation. Meanwhile other gangsters, like Finster Kane (Merker) and Kane’s sidekick Saul Claybourne (Pauletti), have moved in on Tucker’s old turf.

We get much of this backstory in an introductory scene in which Stan (Jones), an older associate of Junior’s dad, explains to Junior how photographs are being circulated in accordance with, seemingly, Tucker’s cryptic instructions from beyond the grave. Could it be that, despite what everyone thinks, Tucker is really still alive?

B.D. Mason as Junior and Aiesha Dukes as Joy

Some of the photos show individuals—notably Kane and Saul—with a cross over their faces. Clearly, rather like the Black Spot, this represents a command to rub out the people concerned. Junior sets out gun in hand . . .

Despite our genre expectations, Junior has no intention of killing the indicated individuals. He just wants to find out what the heck is going on and if somehow his father’s still alive. (Junior’s ambivalent attitudes toward that possibility are extremely well handled.)

Yet the individuals end up dead anyway. The cops suspect suicide, but could that really be true . . .?

Bill Merker as Finster Kane

Mark Howard’s screenplay has some tremendous cod-Chandleresque moments, as befits what is to a large extent both an homage to and a deconstruction of noir:

“Sometimes the chaser is a person, a thought. Sometimes nothing. In the end, after the wind stops and no train is coming, you still keep moving . . .”

To say that Robert McEwen’s cinematography is evocative would be to understate matters. I was especially taken not just by his use of typically noirish shadows and, occasionally, shot angles but also by his deployment of filters (or image-enhancement) to give a sort of false-color quality to many of the scenes. Sometimes I was reminded of the color values you can find in those old 1960s Hammer and American International productions, where everything seems to be just that bit more contrasty and uncomplexly hued than in real life—a bit realer than reality, you could say—and at others I thought of the way simplified cartoon/comics-type backgrounds were used in the Warren Beatty DICK TRACY (1990) and a few others.

Dwayne Branch as Zach Tucker Sr

McEwen also co-wrote the soundtrack with director Howard (it’s nicely unobtrusive) and was the movie’s editor. It was in the field of the editing that I found my only real criticism of No Chaser: every now and then there’s a piece of over-fiddly gimmickry that seems to serve no real purpose in terms of either narrative or atmosphere. Maybe on another day I’d be less picky about it, but today it had me rolling my eyes after a while.

Giovanni Pauletti as Saul Claybourne

The performances are in general splendid, including in some of the minor roles, such as Aiesha Dukes as Junior’s girlfriend Joy and Dwayne Branch as Tucker Sr.; among these smaller roles I especially appreciated Darren Jones’s rendition of Stan. Meanwhile B(rian) D. Mason carries the principal burden with tremendous aplomb; I’ve started looking out for other work of his.

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