New Streaming Releases: A Clear Shot (2020) - Reviewed

photo courtesy Uncork'd Entertainment

Writing a movie about a real-life crime can provide a sense of authenticity to the plot. Truth is often stranger than fiction and can provide a good basis on which to grow the story. How the filmmaker chooses to flesh out and portray the specific details and peculiarities in the true story can make or break the screen appeal. A Clear Shot from director Nick Leisure tells the true story of the 1991 Good Guys! hostage crisis in which over 40 hostages were held at gun point by 5 Vietnamese immigrants inside a Good Guys! electronics store. It is the largest hostage crisis in United States history to this day. This dramatization of the film followed the story of the robbery but added disparate elements that kept the plot from coming together in any real way and weakened the story.

The director pulled every element of good cops-and-robbers movies. After the robbers take control, two employees of the store hide and help the police from the inside. Two detectives show up and take over the scene. A romantic B-plot develops between Gomez (Mario Van Peebles), the lead detective, and Avencula (Mandela Van Peebles) a police officer on the case. The detectives negotiate with the robbers and try to keep the SWAT team from escalating the situation. All elements of a successful heist film, the execution of which left much to be desired.

photo courtesy Uncork'd Entertainment

One of the more awkward scenes took place when robbers demanded that the police give them a full body bullet proof suit. They wanted to cop to hand it over naked so they could be sure he would not trick them. This actually happened in the real robbery and could have served as a moment of comic relief during a tense situation. The way the scene was executed was so awkward that it did come off as comical, but in the worst way possible. The detective strips down and walks barefoot across the street in his underwear to hand over the vest. He then stands around talking with Gomez for an uncomfortable length of time before he left to go change. Moments like this broke the tension of the film and gave it a cheap appearance.

Some comedy in heist films works. Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon successfully blends elements of comedy with suspense, something A Clear Shot does not achieve. They are both based on a true story, but the way the characters are portrayed in Lumet’s work as complex and unfolding as the movie progresses provides more narrative development than the flatter characters in A Clear Shot. Even the complex characters do not have consistent motivation. Wilma (Sandra Gutierrez), one of the hostages, is pregnant. Her character really existed, and her motivation from the beginning is to escape, as she is experiencing pregnancy related medical distress. Halfway through the film, however, she tries to switch sides and gives a lot of solid advice to the robbers. Then almost just as quickly, her motivation shifts back to escaping.

None of the characters really behaved in a way that was consistent, or compelling leading to obvious errors in the film. The robbers took their masks off as soon as they entered the store. They clearly dial 9-1-1 on a pay phone that connects directly to the police outside. One of the robbers even directs a racial slur at a hostage who identified himself as someone who marched in the Civil Rights movement, a detail which was entirely unnecessary to add. The chaotic depiction of the characters, never staying consistent from one moment to the next was disrupting to the overall feel of the film.

The strange way the events come together, and the poor attention to basic continuity errors weakened the film. Despite working with a good story, and starting to create some compelling characters, the film never took the final steps to bring everything together. Too much is left halfway thought out, and many of the subplots never resolve by the end. The execution of the film fell short, doing a disservice to a story that could have been a strong project.

-Patrick Bernas