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Turn the River
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by Jay Seaver

"Famke Janssen - in a part that actually deserves her!"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: When talking to people waiting in line for "Turn the River" and at other screenings over the weekend, a certain consensus emerged: We loved Famke Janssen, but couldn't name very many movies she was in that were very good or where she was the lead. Chris Eigeman, apparently, was similarly perplexed by this situation after working with her in "The Treatment"; fortunately, he was able to write and direct "Turn the River" to remedy that.

The part Eigeman wrote for her is Kailey Sullivan, a small-time Long Island pool and card hustler who hates the city but makes trips in anyway because that's where her son Gully (Jaymie Dornan) lives with his father David (Matt Ross) and stepmother Ellen (Marin Hinkle). Kailey has only recently been a part of Gully's life, and she doesn't like what she's seeing - a private school he hates a domineering, hard-line Catholic grandmother (Lois Smith), and having to communicate with him by dropping letters off at a pool hall owned by Teddy Quinette (Rip Torn). Having been pressured into giving up custody when she and David divorced, there's only one thing Kailey can think of to do - win enough to pay for good papers, grab him, and head to Canada.

Put that way, it doesn't sound like the wisest decision. Kailey is a nomad without the kind of money her paper guy needs, and Gully doesn't exactly seem to be in danger at his home - Grandmother Abigail seems to relish making things uncomfortable and David makes it worse by being suspicious of everything Gully says (the fact that Gully is hiding something in this case makes it no less overbearing), but Ellen does seem to be trying to do well by him in her ineffectual way. There's something about those scenes in Gully's home that makes it seem like a set of pipes ready to burst, but we can't tell where the pressure is being relieved or where the explosion is going to come.

Then there's Kaylie. The part was created specifically for Janssen, and unsurprisingly fits her like a glove. Kailey's tough but not quite hard, which is not quite the ideal it sounds like. This is not a lady who tears up, or ever seems to let her guard down, but Janssen still manages to convey her unconditional love for her son in her scenes with Dornan even when she's also looking over her shoulder. There's also this sad but wonderful cockiness to Kailey - as much as we see that she's barely able to keep her head above water, she's able to keep convincing both herself and the audience that she can come out ahead - even though it's pretty clear that she's overreaching, again.

Matt Ross is also quite good as David; the guy has to be both ground-down and a bit menacing, and he covers that divide nicely. Jaymie Dornan is good as Gully, too, especially toward the end. Terry Kinney brings some welcome comic relief as the guy getting fake passports for Kaylie. A couple of the most memorable performances come from veterans playing somewhat against type. Lois Smith, for instance, is quietly vicious as Abigail; she's only in three or four scenes, but makes such an impression in that brief time that the character is able to cast a large shadow over the rest of the movie. Meanwhile, Rip Torn is almost cuddly as Quinette, his growls something more like a protective papa bear than usual.

Chris Eigeman opts to stay mostly behind the camera in his first film as a writer and director, and it looks like he could make a pretty good living there if he chooses to continue. He's not particularly flashy, but he and his cinematographer do a nice job of making the film easy to follow even though a lot of it takes place in dark rooms and alleys. It's also good to see that even though he is known, as an actor, for playing talky, sarcastic roles, he doesn't fall into the trap of trying to get the same thing from his cast. He gives each member of that cast a character to can sink his or her teeth into, though, and the plotting is really nice - I love the last act, where we see just how fragile Kailey's plan is. Getting away with something is tough, after all, and it's in Kailey's nature to push it.

I think this is the first time Janssen's has a bona fide starring role, and it's great to see that she's up to it. And that's not even taking into account what she and Eigeman told us in the Q&A - that the scene every pool movie has to have was shot in one take, without special effects. That probably doesn't change the quality of the movie any, but as cool bits of trivia goes, it's a nice one.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17365&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/05/08 21:51:43
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User Comments

9/04/12 emily dickinson excellent film except for the scene in the father's apt. This foolish move was not consist 4 stars
11/08/08 Merely Ok Janssen's great, but the film is slow and ponderous. 3 stars
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  DVD: 22-Jul-2008



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Chris Eigeman

Written by
  Chris Eigeman

  Famke Janssen
  Jaymie Dornan
  Rip Torn
  Matt Ross
  Lois Smith

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