MOVIE REVIEW: The Dunning Man
Opening night film of the third annual Irish American Movie Hooley
THE DUNNING MAN-- 3 STARS
Before speeding us ahead to a jarring display that will happen later in The Dunning Man and labeling the setting of Atlantic City, New Jersey, a pre-credits title card displays a keyword definition. Backed by the dour sound effect of dripping water, that word automatically becomes the first life lesson of the film.
LESSON: THE DEFINITION OF THE VERB “DUN”-- Adjustable in verb tense to be “dunned” or “dunning,” “dun” means “to insist upon the payment of a debt” and harkens back to the 17th century. Our main character’s core quest is to corner, sometimes kindly and sometimes less-than-kindly, welches who owe unpaid rent. The main man of The Dunning Man learns who he can press and who can’t with his level of insistence.
Connor Ryan is his name and James Carpinello of TV’s Gotham plays him. He’s made the decision to move out from his girlfriend’s NYC place and take over the superintendent duties across the border in the somewhat tumbledown Beachgate condominiums under the shadow of fancier buildings where the real money is in Atlantic City. The guy has a $20,000 debt that needs to be paid and Connor is, for the most part, a man of his word. Don’t ask him to fix the air conditioning, that’s all.
LESSON #2: FIX WHAT NEEDS FIXING IF IT’S YOUR JOB TO FIX IT-- You know, a whole bunch of Connor’s trouble would go away if he maintained the domestic upkeep he is contractually obligated to provide. Do your job, man, and your customers won’t have something to hold over your head when you need something urgent from them.
Backed by his Uncle Bishop (Manchester by Sea ensemble player Tom Kemp), Connor’s gamut of tenants, introduced with freeze frame profile information, ranging from the comely to the belligerent and the downright weird. Alice (Dawn-Lyen Gardner of TV’s Luke Cage and Queen Sugar) is an attractive single mother that turns Connor’s head, but her washout squeeze Jerrod (Langston Fishburne, son of Laurence) is still in the picture. Rattling the walls above her with a symphony of musical and sexual sounds is one-hit wonder rapper Stryker Jones (Nicoye Banks of Green Zone) whose side job is busting any and everyone’s balls with joking intimidation. Last but not least are Ramos and Ferdinand (Matthew Rimmer and Scott Oakley), two Chechen thugs who classify themselves as wolf-emulating spirit warriors with a kinky fetish of furry things to match.
No matter the pickle, it’s James Carpinello’s ringer to endure and each Beachgate resident presents a different challenge. The Gangster Squad actor comports himself nicely in this rare leading role, stretching his facial creases and stressed squint from the frazzled to the grizzled. He has the whiskey-soaked charisma to keep you interested when things get hairy… err… furry.
LESSON #3: THERE ARE EASY AND HARD WAYS TO MAKE MONEY-- Similar to Lesson #2, Connor Ryan strikes us as a man who makes things more difficult than they have to be for reasons of stubbornness and pride. He never feigns weak with his words or attitude, but the hard way and tough luck make him more than a bit of a loser. For him, there have to be better ways to earn a little scratch.
Inspired by true events, which will cause a fun double take as the film transpires, The Dunning Man is adapted from the published short stories of producer Kevin Fortuna. Precariously, at times, balancing somewhere between an urban drama and paperback crime novel, the film presents a seedy slice of Atlantic City calmed by nostalgic scene transitions of vintage footage of the city in its decadent heyday. Writer and director Michael Clayton, making his feature debut, lets the sun and shade for Petr Cikhart’s cinematography do the thematic talking for when the film sways from its light and reflective brevity to the hardscrabble and bizarre.
After successful film festival bows in San Jose and Hoboken, The Dunning Man makes its Chicago premiere as the opening night film of the third annual Irish American Movie Hooley happening at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Kevin Fortuna will be in attendance to introduce and discuss the film afterward, including a nightcap at the Emerald Loop Bar. Tickets are still available.