Able Danger

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 11/25/08 04:14:54

"A rantier, ravier, grimer Sam Spade."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

“Able Danger” deftly mixes 1940s detective yarn with 1970s conspiracy thriller, creating a new genre: the post-9/11 noir. It’s a clever twist, but it’s also a clever movie, crisply layered with all the right mystery elements. More than just a self-referential lark, “Able Danger” tells a smart, inventive story.

At the center of writer/director Paul Krik’s tale is the chestnut about how 9/11 was an inside job. Thomas Flynn (Adam Nee) runs a Brooklyn coffeehouse by day and a conspiracy theory website by night; he swears he’s got all the inside information, and a few self-published books grant him some authority among the paranoia crowd. (The film’s website states the coffeehouse is real, and Thomas is based in part on its owner, a conspiracy researcher and author.) Into his life strolls sultry femme fatale Kasia (Elina Löwensohn), who claims she has a connection to one of the hijackers and is carrying a hard drive containing all the top secret 9/11 data wiped out, so the theory goes, by a government program called Able Danger. Before long, people turn up dead while Thomas catches heat from the feds, the cops, and European villains eager to get their hands on the hard drive.

It is, essentially, “The Maltese Falcon” reworked with a greasy hipster in the Bogart role, and at times, Krik gets too obvious in such a joke. In one late scene, Thomas quips that the hard drive is “the stuff conspiracy theories are made of,” which is a great line, but one that tips its hat a bit too far; the movie works better when the cinematic references are subtler. Placing the hard drive a box that radiates a harsh glow when opened might be equally obvious a reference, but it’s slyer, more effective. So are smaller touches, like the Sam Spade-like revelation of Thomas’ previous affair with the wife of his partner, or the detective genre standby of the faithful secretary, here recast as a faithful barista. And, of course, while the plot follows the general outline of Hammett’s classic, it’s filled with its own unique ingredients, too, making for a first-rate mystery.

Also clever is how Krik’s screenplay (and Nee’s astute performance) handles the Thomas character. He’s kind of a self-important dolt, the sort of poseur who strains to look smarter than he is. As a guest on a talk show, he tosses out a reference to Occam’s Razor; we immediately then learn that a friend just taught Thomas about the subject a few hours earlier, and now Thomas is pretending to be an expert on it. It’s a daring move, making your lead an egocentric loser, and the character becomes more intriguing because of it. But Krik goes further, allowing Thomas to grow less weaselly, more heroic as the story progresses and Thomas realizes the real-life seriousness of the dangers surrounding him; the movie demands he become a hero of sorts, and he manages to play along.

“Able Danger” marks the feature debut of Krik, previously employed in the advertising industry. He uses a keen eye honed on sharp commercial visuals to create a dazzling - if admittedly murky - look to his film, shot on video and blown up to black-and-white 35mm film, resulting in grainy, hazy dreariness. Combined with this are clearer shots using green night-vision video (to show us when Thomas is being followed by mysterious agents) and random pops of color (used for both dream sequences and television footage - perhaps suggesting the mass media is pushed to us as being “more real” than the real world?) Such visual gimmickry runs the risk of derailing a rookie effort, the sign of a freshman trying too hard, but Krik restrains himself and uses the various styles to the story’s advantage.

Again, we visit the film’s website, where we learn Krik apparently belongs to the conspiracy community and made “Able Danger” in part to share his thoughts on 9/11 theories. But it doesn’t really matter - 9/11 is just the MacGuffin, the jewel-encrusted bird in the middle of a sometimes winking, sometimes serious spin on a familiar genre. Krik’s film is bold storytelling for a generation raised on cynicism and self-reference. It’s also one heck of a thriller, sleek and complex and quickly-paced. It’s the stuff solid indie filmmaking is made of.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.