Coming Soon: Copper Bill (2020) - Reviewed

One of the hallmarks of the noir genre is that no crime is perfect and there is, ultimately, no escape from the darkness.  Independent director Brett Bentman has been quietly carving out his own niche within neo-noir cinema, exploring the underbelly of modern-day Texas.   His latest offering, Copper Bill, is a claustrophobic nightmare of things gone awry.  Smaller in scope than his familial epic 90 Feet From Home, this is a criminal fable about the dangers of greed and the paper tribe loyalty of thieves.  Featuring a plethora of twists and turns, some genuinely hilarious moments in between the bloodshed, and Bentman's patented stalwart command, this is the best film of the year thus far.  

Degenerate gambler Jessup recruits fellow criminal Mitchell to invade the home of the heir of the Cowboy Mafia, hoping to find the score of a lifetime.  Things are complicated when the heiress, a mute femme fatale, enters the fray, leading to series of double crosses and murder under the blistering Texas sun.  Thom Hallum's performance as Jessup is diametrically opposed to his endearing performance in 90 Feet From Home.  He disappears inside Jessup, a world weary criminal desperate for a big win.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is in how Hallum's chemistry with the other principles transforms along with the narrative.  In the first act, Jessup appears in control, yet his relationships are at arm's length, both with fellow criminals and his quarry.  This evolves into a form of humorous fatalism as the walls begin to crash down around him, and it is Hallum's undeniable charm that sells it.  

WWE Superstar Dustin Rhodes gives the most nuanced performance.  His Mitchell is equal parts terrifying, cunning, and vulnerable.  It is a testament to his talent how much his physicality falls to the wayside during the tense moments in between: whispered conspiracies and unsaid realities are the fabric of Copper Bill and Rhodes is a totem of dangerous energy.  Katy Harris rounds out the leading trio as Lilly, the mute hostage who may hold the key to either financial heaven or bullet laced hell.  Her dynamic, particularly with Hallum is the heart’s blood of the production.  In true noir form, the principals vacillate between hostile enemies and harried bedfellows at the drop of a hat and Harris' ability to communicate this without speech is remarkable.  The supporting cast includes Arthur Redcloud as a legendary loan shark "The Indian" and Billy Harris as Brady, a repugnant criminal.  Everyone of Harris' lines are laugh out loud hysterics, a perfect tonal break in the unbearable pressure of the situation.  Redcloud's Indian is a figure of criminal myth and appalling brutality, and his performance anchors the final act.  

Anthony Gutierrez's cinematography continues to be one of the most refreshing aspects of independent cinema.  While his shots in 90 Feet From Home were filled with unobtrusive wide shots of the characters and locales, everything in Bill has a suffocating quality that can't be escaped.  Even in the wide-open shots of the ranch, Gutierrez frames everything; the trees, the blood, even the characters, as pieces in a game that is almost over.  Everything is brought together with Jeff Hamm's astute editing, allowing things to play out whenever possible, and using quickfire cuts in several keys scenes to mimic the sense of confused mystery that hangs over the proceedings.  

Debuting at the end of the month and then hopefully coming to digital on demand as soon as possible, Copper Bill is a taught, intelligent thriller masterfully woven together by Bentman and his crew of cinematic rogues.  It is films like this; small, passion projects that are the fabric of film.  In a time when capes and explosions are the ruling class, Bentman et al have chosen to create a lean, nihilistic, crime caper that delivers everything it promises, including the realization that this talented group has more offer. 

--Kyle Jonathan