Opening in a limited theatrical run and also available on VOD is the crime thriller The Mason Brothers from writer, director, producer, and co-star Keith Sutliff, which is being dubbed as “a Tarantino-esque crime thriller inspired by Reservoir Dogs.” Just as Reservoir Dogs was inspired by Ringo Lam’s 1987 Honk Kong gangster film City on Fire and tweaked the concept, The Mason Brothers is different enough from its predecessors in order to stand out on its own. It takes a similar story-line and dials back the onscreen violence and bloodshed, presenting a unique minimalistic crime drama that is more akin to a theatrical play where the characters and dialogue are at the forefront. While this minimalism is extremely effective and results in some compelling scenes, there are a few head scratching issues involving the plot and decisions that the characters make that hurt the picture overall.
A bank heist goes wrong when two separate crews coincidentally show up to rob a bank at the same time, leaving one brother dead, two remaining brothers with questions, and a fourth member who might not be trustworthy. Holed up in a warehouse, they want vengeance and answers. The beauty of the story is its simplicity, with a majority of the scenes just featuring two actors sitting in a darkly lit room talking to each other. It’s all about furthering the plot and developing the characters through their dialogue and interactions with each other. The bank heist is never shown on screen and the narrative is non-linear, with a series of flashbacks leading up to the heist used to flesh out the story. These flashbacks can be confusing at times and actually create more problems than anything, begging the question of whether they were actually necessary. Another route could have possibly been explored. Most of the violence is implied and kept to a minimum, a bold move that may actually lose some of the intended audience.
The acting from Mathew Webb and Brandon Sean Pearson is outstanding. Pearson plays the hot tempered Jesse Mason, while Webb portrays the fourth member Gage whose loyalty is in question. They share the bulk of the screen time together and it’s their chemistry and dynamic that makes things interesting. Sutliff plays Ren Mason, the silent and contemplative leader of the crew. It’s a performance that is somewhere in between working and being slightly too wooden, with minimal dialogue or changes in his demeanor. The rest of the cast’s performances are a mixed bag.
Sutliff’s directing style somewhat mirrors that of Christopher Nolan, delivering a setting that is dark and devoid of colors. The film mostly takes place at night, with the primary location being the interior of a dark warehouse. Within the warehouse, the lights are barely on and shadows are cast over the actors. The environment around them is inconsequential; we often only see the characters, some chairs, and an old chest. This puts the focus solely on them, with Sutliff opting for longer takes, less editing, and close up shots of the actors. It all works beautifully and lends to the sense of sitting in a dark theater watching the events of a play unfold. The problems surface when scenes during the daytime are mixed in or lights are turned on in the warehouse setting, creating an imbalance that doesn’t quite work. The wonderful synth score from Federico Vaona has to be mentioned as well, which recalls memories of Miami Vice and the assortment of cop movies from the 80’s.
The Mason Brothers will not appeal to everyone. Fans of the crime genre might be turned away by the picture's lack of violence in exchange for a more psychologically driven story. However, this could have been scaled back even further. For me personally, the decision to include certain events on screen ultimately hampered the final product. Pushing the boundaries even further by only featuring the three core actors with no flashbacks, or severally limiting the interactions with the other actors would have been an intriguing thing to watch unfold. For an indie crime picture, it is still worthy of giving a chance and Sutliff should be a name to watch.
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