BNFF08 REVIEW: Sympathetic Details [2008]

“I could be a farmer”

Benjamin Busch’s Sympathetic Details showed here at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival as the “short” film of a double-header bill with a feature length work. It is tough to call this film a short because its 57 minute runtime puts it on the cusp of being more. I don’t think anyone would ever release a movie under an hour, however, so I guess it becomes a short by default. As is, I think Busch did the right thing in not trying to expand on it to increase the length. Anything more would have been noticeably filler and have screwed up the pacing, which already is a bit odd in the middle. Maybe because it screened from a DVD, but it looked and felt like a true indie, done on the cheap with some friends, yet still reached a higher level of professionalism than would be normally expected from something like that.

With all his co-stars from the HBO drama “The Wire” in action, we are treated to a darker rendition of similar themes as those in this year’s black comedy In Bruges. The story concerns a hitman who has grown a conscience and started asking about his target’s survival statistics, the family he will be leaving behind, or as his boss calls it, unnecessary sympathetic details. In this line of work, asking moral questions and then walking away is practically a suicide note as is relayed during the course of the movie. If you are too soft to do the job, you may be too soft to allow others to continue it as well. Any risk of an ex-assassin going informer must be dealt with.

Our evolved killer is played by actor Ryan Sands with mixed results. At times he is perfect, but in others he plays it a bit stiff and unnatural. Maybe this was intentional as he was going out of his cold-blooded mentality, but he seemed completely devoid of emotion, a trait that appeared in the script to be what he was discovering. He should have been affected by what happened around him and not just started asking questions while doing his job business as usual. The stoic façade does work perfectly for the final act, though, as he uses his skills to try and save his own life.

As for the rest of the cast, we are treated with some solid turns. Clarke Peters is pitch-perfect as the big boss without morals, doing his job because it must be done. His handling of an assistant, at the start, and his conversation with Sands, at the end, are two great scenes. John Doman is effective as Sands’ handler, showing the evolution of feeling that his employee and friend should have had as well. Mixed on whether to do his job as he knows it should be done, (these are bad men with reasons to die, one shouldn’t forget that fact just because they have a family at home), or to protect his colleague because he knows what his future may hold adds a nice layer to the story. There are also nice showings from Marisol Chacin, (a crucial cog to the system that one may overlook), Domenick Lombardozzi, (setting the tone of the film), and Seth Gilliam, (the true nature of how a criminal lives dual lives of deceit and love depending on who he is dealing with).

Busch has crafted something here with a lot of potential. There are flaws for sure, but the base is solid. Starting out with a bang—showing an incident and fringe characters, playing with the audience’s notion of investing in people because they are onscreen for a long time without knowing how the story will progress, that really just sets up our introduction to the lead role hidden from view—and concluding with a stellar final act that brings everything full circle, the film is bookmarked perfectly. The middle is the weak link, trying to set up relationships without really needing to. You forget any lulls once the end comes as it all falls into place and everyone’s allegiances are brought to the surface. I give a lot of credit to Busch for ending it as it needed to be. Not quite completely bleak, but definitely not cheery, Sympathetic Details concludes on a note of closure for all involved, bringing each arc to its inevitable finale.

Sympathetic Details 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


One Thought to “BNFF08 REVIEW: Sympathetic Details [2008]”

  1. Written in response to this review posted on imdb, writer/director Benjamin Busch gave me a copy of his director’s statement, helping to explain his creative choices, technical limitations, and background into the complex world that he created:

    “Dear Reviewer,

    I am Benjamin Busch, writer and Director of the film “Sympathetic Details”, and I wanted to quickly thank you for watching my film with honest critical attention. I do not know if we had the chance to meet while it screened at the Buffalo-Niagara Film Festival but I wish that we had. I would have enjoyed talking about it in more detail (not sympathetic detail). I think that your assessment is even, fair, and very close to my own in most respects. I did the best that I could. Here is my Director’s Statement if it may be of any interest to you. Thank you, again, for paying attention and noticing some of the art in the craft.

    Director’s Statement:

    Making the film “Sympathetic Details” allowed me to visually explore characters through their environments and use symbolism to make nature into an anti-hero.

    The simple core of the story is not a new one in that an assassin has a moral crisis of conscience and is hunted as he tries to leave the profession of killing. I wanted to take that genre and use it to express some deeper ideas about the human imposition of morality and to explore human conscience with its primal relationship to our animalism, predatory instinct and unemotional murder. I wrote the script a few months after the sudden death of my father, writer Frederick Busch, and the theme of fathers and sons became, unintentionally, somehow unavoidable as well. The idea that we are unable to save the ones we love and protect them, finally, from death is present throughout the film and in the pairing of most characters.

    To make the audience feel more part of the film’s interior, I kept the scenes sparse. Most meetings between characters occur in spaces that seem occupied only by them. They have the feeling of intimate stage performances in real locations and I did that to lure the audience closer to the characters. Some of these scenes feel slow but the speed is inviting us to see the characters without distraction before I push them into action. I designed the entire first half of the film to have the sense of enclosure and to culminate in a claustrophobic shootout in a room full of caged birds. The second half of the film was designed to unravel that enclosed space and explore open space for escape, to move characters out of the safety of their environments. I use plants juxtaposed to people and constructed spaces through the film to build on the symbolism of the forest at the end, our nature. I wanted nature to always be present, controlled in the first half of the film by being potted or enclosed, and dangerous in the second half by being open. I placed and moved plants into frame and placed and moved characters around plants in almost every scene.

    I used color to compliment mood as we follow Jonathan through the film as well. He begins purposeful in shadow and yellow, then uncertain in an enclosed landscape of pale cacti, then introspective in reflected blues of the glass stairs of his apartment, then predatory in the surreal enclosed jungle backlit with subtle reds, then confessionary in the deep romantic red of the restaurant, then distraught in the purple and yellow oranges of the plastic in the pigeon tenement, and finally his struggle for life and peace in the green and earthy brown of the forest. His journey through space and color is composed of very particular choices that I made in locations and set dressing. I worked on the same feelings with the music composer and the sound, much like the imagery, begins intimate and slow and changes in the middle of the film to project violence of action.

    We could not afford 35mm film on this very independent project but I needed a similar depth of field so I chose the Panasonic Varicam HD and the Pro35 adaptor so that I could still use prime lenses. This combination of equipment allowed me to capture images like the slow dolly in on the postcard taped to the window. With only $50,000 I could buy twelve 12 hour days of principal photography and one camera so I had to be very simple and economical in most of my direction. My objective was to create an action film that moved like a drama and honored character and environment as the forces that moved the story instead of the action. I saw most of the film as I wrote it and I think that we got wonderfully close to my final vision of a simple movie about a hitman that is actually a complex 57 minute comment on the nature of man, morality, fatherhood, and existentialism. It has sympathy for the devil and, like nature, no sympathy for anyone else.

    I hope that you find your way to my next.

    Be well,


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.