Down and Dangerous, a film which gained much of its financial traction by raising $38,000 on Kickstarter, is proof that a slick, visually enticing film doesn’t need a $40-50 million budget to flourish. Old school filmmakers such as Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour), Val Lewton (Cat People), and Budd Boetticher (Ride Lonesome) laid the foundation for effectively using whatever little money they had to create masterworks of cinema. Although director Zak Forsman has yet to join such esteemed company, he’s swimming in similar waters.
The story focuses on principled dope smuggler Paul Boxer (John T. Woods), a tougher than nails soul who believes a life riding solo is the only way to go. An existence sans entanglements is the purest way to do business, and to date it’s kept him out of the slammer.
Easy money isn’t so easy in the drug trade, however, and when an erratic, Mexican drug kingpin named Rafael Garza (Ernest Curcio) enters the picture, Paul’s hermetically sealed life is taken for a spin. Complicating matters is Olivia (Paulie Rojas), Garza’s current partner in crime, is our hero’s one true love and his right hand man is a trigger happy DEA agent (Ross Marquand, who’s quite believable as a corrupt soul with a horrible chip on his shoulder).
If you’re looking for a thematically rich or innovative storyline, Down and Dangerous won’t fulfill your needs. Rather, its creative thrust lies in everything else that matters in a good movie. You want eye catching cinematography and expert lensing? What about a pulsating, synth driven soundtrack that rivals such crime classics as Thief or Drive?All of those elements reside in an action film which understands that style doesn’t have to triumph over substance. Instead, for a person who wants a visceral and testosterone charged experience, style is substance.
Capturing a nighttime Los Angeles in all its seductive and deadly glory is a skill that directors Michael Mann (Collateral, Heat) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) possess, and how Forsman, whose dad is an ex-smugger, managed to paint his own distinct vision of the city sans a big budget is, for lack of a better word, awe inspiring.
All the supporting players (including Judd Nelson doing fine work as Paul’s prison inmate buddy) do a bang up job, and a huge part of the film’s success lies in John T. Woods’ terse and cool as a cucumber portrayal of the protagonist. Although he looks like a cross between Jerry Ferrera (Entourage’s Turtle) and Karl Urban, that resemblance served as a distraction for the first several minutes, and then I moved on.
Shot in over 30 locations throughout Mexico and California, Down and Dangerous has high production values that puts many studio projects to shame. Years later, heck maybe even weeks from now, Forsman can teach film students how to turn that proverbial fifteen cents into a dollar. All that money is on the screen, and it’ll be interesting to see what the director does with a ton of cash to spare.
Until then, Down and Dangerous is an enjoyable film that proves kick starting the right feature isn’t such a bad idea after all. I won’t be singing the smuggler’s blues anytime soon, but this project reaches a new high I didn’t think smaller scale features could achieve.