From the moment Clover hits the screen you may give the requisite eye roll, believing this is another “homage” to a Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. In fairness, those filmmakers had their own heroes (both love director Samuel Fuller’s work). Unless you’ve existed since the first days of cinema, originality is hard to come by. More importantly, Clover is a first rate feature that surpassed my expectations.
Directed with gusto and precision by Jon Abrahams, Clover centers on Mickey (Abrahams) and Jackie (Mark Webber), brothers who are in over their head thanks to Jackie’s gambling addictions. Time’s up for the siblings, as they owe way too much money to mob boss Tony (Chazz Palminteri). Though he respected their father and has taken a slight shine to Mickey, Tony is more than ready to have his goons kill them on the spot.
Mickey and Jackie are forced into accompanying Tony’s son Joey (Michael Godere) to shake down another unlucky guy who owes money and unfortunately the confrontation leads to violence. The man is killed and his understandably distraught daughter Clover (Nicole Elizabeth Berger) is left depending on Jackie and Mickey for survival. Considering the brothers are constantly shouting and bickering like children, Clover may be better off on her own.
To fully enjoy Clover, one must reconcile that Mickey and Jackie’s consistent arguing is borne out of frustration . . . and love. During the first section of the story, I almost completely checked out thanks to Mickey’s quick trigger temper and Jackie’s overall stupidity. But I used to hate black coffee, and now, as a slightly wiser man, I swear by it. If you stick all the way through this film, don’t be surprised if you’re pulling for their overall well being.
Abrahams, working from Michael Testone’s screenplay (he also penned Abrahams’ directing debut All at Once), knows his way around a camera. One sequence, shot on Buffalo Central Terminal, is tour de force filmmaking on an indie budget, as he makes expert use of his location (while balancing interlapping storylines). Another moment, which centers on a person’s final moments, is played out a bit longer than expected but ends up being one of the feature’s many effective scenes. A chase culminating on a subway is also shot with the right amount of pacing and verve (like many of the movie’s more visceral instances, it gets your blood going).
That said, Clover’s bread and butter lies in its performances. Berger is a complete find as the titular character, as she effectively serves as the counterbalance (and model of common sense) for the often foolish (but well meaning) siblings. Jake Weber (13 Reasons Why, Meet Joe Black) is hilarious as their mentally unstable and unpredictable cousin Terry, a guy who knows a thing or two about taking out a few bad men. Clover and Terry’s immediate bond is a welcome palette cleanser for the film’s more brutal interactions.
Check out The Shacks‘ version of “Crimson And Clover,” which is featured in the film:
Jessica Szohr (Gossip Girl, The Orville) is Jackie’s exasperated ex-girlfriend Angie, who gives much needed shelter to the desperate trio. Pat (The Neighborhood’s Tichina Arnold) is a bar owner who will do anything for the brothers (they’re basically like family). Not even close to rounding out the ensemble is Erika Christensen and Julia Jones as Gertie and Virginia, hitwomen who, although hired by a rival crime boss (Ron Perlman, opening the film with a monologue on why wolves are awesome), have a separate agenda. Each of the characters have their time to shine, and while it’s easy to guess that Abrahams was influenced by his share of crime films, it doesn’t lead to a derivative approach to the material.
The biggest trick Abrahams pulls is presenting a seemingly trope filled story and knocking you over the head with, at least from my perspective, something altogether different. Some viewers may be put off by the intentionally jarring blend of comedy and drama (especially when the body count is high), but ultimately Clover appealed to my sensibilities.
Abrahams, who also worked with Christensen and Berger on All At Once, does a solid directing (and acting job) in the feature, and my guess is he’ll continue to have his own company of actors return for his future projects. I’ll definitely be checking out All At Once after being impressed with Clover’s execution.
If you can handle a few brothers argue at an annoying fever pitch, give this film a shot. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but thankfully Clover has way more tricks up its sleeve.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Clover is available on VOD starting Friday, April 3.
***I will be discussing the film with my CinemAddicts podcast co-host Anderson Cowan on our next episode (which releases this week as well). To listen to our previous episode, check out Soundcloud: