The Oak Room


Not the guy you want to see come into your bar after closing.

(2021) Thriller (Gravitas) RJ Mitte, Peter Outerbridge, Ari Millen, Nicholas Campbell, Martin Roach, David Ferry, Amos Crawley, Avery Esteves, Coal Campbell, Adam Seybold. Directed by Cody Calahan

 

You’ve heard it before. A guy walks into a bar at closing time (or shortly thereafter) with a story to tell. It’s a dark and stormy night and the snow is falling, and the rest of the world is asleep, but those in the bar are very much awake.

Bartender Paul (Outerbridge) is closing up when a masked, hooded figure walks in – not something you want in the middle of a dark and stormy night. After nearly clobbering said figure with a baseball bat, the stranger removes his mask to reveal that he is Steve (Mitte), also someone Paul in particular is not happy to see. See, Paul was buddies with Steve’s Dad Gordon (N. Campbell) – everyone’s dad is named Gordon in Canada – and Steve had left town to go to college, flunked out and promptly disappeared. He hadn’t even come home for Dad’s funeral, so Paul was left to foot the bill. He still has Gordon’s ashes in a tackle box, waiting for Steve. Steve owes Paul, that’s for sure – but Steve wants to repay Paul with a story.

Steve’s not a particularly good storyteller – he tells Paul the ending of the story first, and is eager to tell him the beginning, but Paul isn’t interested. Paul has a story of his own to tell. And so the two men swap stories in the cold, wintery night, and there is something darker taking place in the bar than a winter storm could account for.

There’s a feeling of noir to the film, and that’s a good thing. The movie owes its gestation to a stage play, and there is definitely a stagey feel to the single set production which takes place in two separate bars, including the titularly named Oak Room – which isn’t the bar that Steve and Paul are sitting in. There isn’t a ton of action – how could there be when you’re talking about two guys telling stories, and those stories include stories about guys telling stories – and there’s a ton of dialogue, nor is the dialogue particularly snappy. What the film IS successful at is keeping the viewer’s interest and keeping the tension building, and there’s something to be said for that.

The themes of father-son relationships and their breakdowns, mistaken identities (as a metaphor, or at least that’s what I figured), and the place of stories in modern culture are all well-taken and require a little bit of thought from the viewer. Even so, this is the kind of movie you can sit back and watch on a cold, dark night if you’re looking for a certain type of atmosphere and not necessarily have to think too hard. How much effort you put into the movie won’t necessarily determine your enjoyment of it, which is a rare feat in moviemaking. I don’t always see it in the movies I review, but I try to applaud it when I do see it.

REASONS TO SEE: Your interest is piqued throughout. Has noir-ish elements with a Northern edge.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit stage-y and may be a bit too dialogue-heavy for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drinking and violence – some of it graphic.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: No women appear in the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/26/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Catch .44
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
My Wonderful Wanda

Whiteout


Kate Beckinsale

This is Kate Beckinsale looking concerned. Later, she'll look perplexed.

(Warner Brothers) Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Tom Skerritt, Alex O’Laughlin, Shawn Doyle, Joel Keller, Jesse Todd, Arthur Holden, Erin Hickock. Directed by Dominic Sena

In space, no one can hear you scream; by the same token, at the South Pole, nobody can see a maniac coming either. At least, not in this movie.

It all starts with a plane full of Soviet Russians circa 1955 transporting a mysterious box over the South Pole to God knows where (Ummm…not to make too fine a point of it, but isn’t the USSR closer to the North Pole? Just asking…) when a gunfight breaks out on the transport plane. As anyone who knows airplanes can tell you, a gunfight on an airplane in midflight is usually a very bad idea. This scene would bear that out – so remember the next time you feel the urge to shoot someone on a plane, no matter how irritating they are.

Fifty years later another body turns up, and like the Russians, this one was killed on purpose but nobody knows who it was or what the body was doing all the way to Hell and gone. U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) has maybe the cushiest and worst job in the U.S. Marshall service – the most she ever has to deal with are a couple of geologists arguing about whose theory about igneous rocks is more accurate. Now, she has to deal with a murder – and only two days to solve it before the researchers fly north for the winter.

She will be aided by the wise, kindly Dr. Fury (Skerritt) who has nothing to do with Nick Fury other than they both originated in comic books, an FBI agent (Macht) who shows up conveniently, a wisecracking pilot (Short) and umm…other guys. As other bodies start turning up and an investigation of the original crime scene turns up that Russian transport plane from the prologue, it appears that the murders have something to do with whatever was in that mysterious box. What was so valuable that people would be killing for it fifty years later? The Ark of the Covenant maybe?

The movie started out life as a tautly written graphic novel that was way more suspenseful than this mess. The fact that it was shelved for nearly a decade before it was made, then sat on the studio shelf an additional two years after it was made should have told you something; well, obviously you took it to heart because this bombed at the box office in a hailstorm of negative reviews.

Part of the movie’s problem is endemic to the location, which is ironically one of the things that sets this movie apart from other thrillers. The whiteout conditions at the conclusion of the movie make it nearly impossible to tell who’s fighting who, or see what the characters are doing. I’ve seen plenty of movies so underlit that you can’t make out what’s going on; here, the action is obscured in a blizzard of studio snow.

The other problem is that much of the tension that made the graphic novel so enjoyable is largely missing here. Beckinsale, who can be a strong actress when given the right material (see Snow Angels), has been given absolutely nothing to work with here. Oh, there’s a backstory about a near-death experience while working for the Marshall Service in Miami that Haunts our Heroine Even Now, but largely she is given no personality and spends most of the movie looking perplexed, surprised, bundled up beyond recognition in fur jackets or stripping down for a gratuitous shower.

Likewise, most of the other characters are given no personalities and all kind of blend together with the exception of Skerritt’s Doc Fury who comes off a bit like a skinny Wilford Brimley. As such, you’re given no reason to care a whit about any of them, even after the maniac with the pickaxe comes calling.

There were four writers credited with the screenplay, which makes for patchwork screenwriting. This was a difficult graphic novel to translate to the motion picture medium at best for the reasons outlined above, but it basically had no chance with so many fingers in its pie. Hopefully, the studios and producer Joel Silver will have learned a lesson; avoid action sequences in a snowstorm and focus on character development if you want the suspense to really go off the scale and in the future, try to inject a little suspense into a suspense movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Kate Beckinsale is a beautiful woman.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a lot of suspense and quite frankly some of the action is hard to see.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence but not to excess, some rather grisly images and a bit of nudity. Probably not for the kids, unless they’re crazy mature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Lake Manitoba exterior location was occasionally colder than the South Pole it was doubling for.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Expendables