Cinematic Releases: Stray Bullets (2017) - Reviewed

Stray Bullets is the feature directorial debut of sixteen year old Jack Fessenden, whose father is the well known veteran actor Larry Fessenden. At initial glance, one might suggest that this is a form of nepotism and that the young director is simply having things handed to him. It’s tough to make that argument after watching Stray Bullets, which was written, directed, edited, scored, and co-starred the young Jack Fessenden. It is a dialed down character driven crime drama that is a solid debut for a director of any age, let alone one that is only sixteen. 

The story involves a pair of teens tasked with cleaning up an old trailer, only to run into a trio of criminals on the run after a botched job leaves one of them critically injured. The narrative parallels well known crime genre films such as Reservoir Dogs, but is able to sidestep them with its youthful coming of age tale and a realistic approach to the dialogue and situations. While most astute viewers will have a pretty good idea of what will happen at the end, it’s the character building and relationship dynamics created along the way that make this an interesting piece of work, especially for a teenage filmmaker. It helps that he has his father’s vast selection of motion pictures to use as a reference, along with his assistance as an actor and cinematographer on this. One thing that is particularly impressive is the world that Jack has created and the collection of fascinating bad guys that inhabit it. They are people that demand more screen time and easily could be featured in additional movies in the future. 

The acting is exceptional and that should be expected from a host of career actors, most notably James Le Gros, John Speredakos, and Larry Fessenden. Their performances as the trio of criminals have a great deal of depth to them, bringing us characters that are more than just bad guys and ones that you can gain an emotional attachment to. Kevin Corrigan has a small role as a crazy hitman, yet it’s memorable and impactful. Asa Spurlock is commendable as the teenage counterpart to co-star Jack Fessenden, who takes on more of the dialogue and interactions for the duo. 

The directing is outstanding and there should be no doubt that the young filmmaker is more than qualified to handle the immense tasks that were before him. It is most reminiscent of the cinema verite style, focusing on more realistic camera shots and editing in specific scenes. There are still plenty of sequences that feature extensive camera movement and staging, delivering some truly excellent and unforgettable scenes. The cinematography and locations add to the more grounded and realistic look of the picture, with the scenic and lush greens of upstate New York, the rundown buildings of a small old town, the 1974 Dodge Dart, an old mobile home, and the auto repair shop with old parts piled up. The score takes a minimalist approach and ends up opting for the natural sounds of the environment more often than not. When it is present, it is mostly a simple blend of acoustic and electric guitars, piano, and bass that subtly adds to the tone and doesn’t completely overshadow anything. 

While there is some violence, it is not a movie that is driven by that violence. So don’t go expecting the next John Wick, because you will be sorely disappointed. Instead, this is a devoted character study that most fans of the crime genre should enjoy. Either way, there is no doubt that Jack Fessenden is a directorial name that we should we be tracking for years to come. Stray Bullets will have a limited theatrical release and will also be available on VOD beginning on February 10th.

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