SHORT FILM REVIEW: Loyalty or Betrayal
LOYALTY OR BETRAYAL-- 3 STARS
By design and in the name of essential effectiveness, a good short film has to cut to the chase. Their tricks of cinematic shorthand in the exposition department are what make them entertaining. When the micro-budgeted Loyalty or Betrayal opens on the imagery of a man on his bedroom floor putting a gun to his forehead, a chase has certainly been cut. Writer/director Jonathan Vargas grabs us right there and locks our gaze.
You immediately wonder what’s going on in this man’s mind as he wrestles with suicide in a private moment. How much guilt is behind the anxiety we see? How did he get to this point? Sharp black-and-white flashbacks arrive to offer clues to his situation and legacy.
He’s been ordered by a crime boss (Steven D. Mairano) to make someone disappear with the promise of a dream-fulfilling payday and the door opening to become a made man. We learn his name is Charlie, played by Robert Rios, and he’s been mixed up with organized crime long enough to reach a critical point to put up or shut up. However, Charlie hasn’t always been this way. Further steps backward show a tight bond with his father Vincent (Richard Sosa). Stepping back to the present, the dilemma at hand still needs to be answered.
Loyalty or Betrayal, in its brief stay, takes that aforementioned locked gaze and puts us through a brooding wringer. Rios’ wordless protagonist finds himself wrought with emotion. Hovering about him, Sosa hits us nicely with daddy feels that poke the corporeal hearts for Charlie and for us. They constitute a pair of dedicated performances that run right into the beats of the end credits.
If Vargas’ wringer lacks one thing it is that extra level nail-biting tension. The film has an unapologetic edge to go dark, but a shade more palpable peril could have really dropped jaws and hit nerves. Sharper edits and additional shot variety with the camera create such an infusion. Nevertheless, Loyalty or Betrayal does not waste its potential and twists the knife with enough subversion to impress.
LESSON #1: AUDIENCES TO A CRIME-- The highs and lows of Loyalty or Betrayal take us back to contemplating how criminals get started down their maligned and sinful paths. They could not have started that way and we know it. These men are someone’s father, brother, or son. Somewhere, they were exposed to the lifestyle, maybe even as kids, and were taught to condone it. They played an audience to unlawful choices and felt it obligatory or necessary to make similar choices, blinded by vane glamour or empty promises.
LESSON #2: THERE IS NO HONOR AMONG THIEVES-- This classic storytelling mantra makes its way into Loyalty or Betrayal with its two title ideals firmly in play and at odds. From the decision to act to the denouement, one will ask where rightly ask where the honor is and, more importantly, where the sense of family is as well.