“Which do you fear more—to be exposed or to be killed?”
It begins with a KGB turncoat radioing for assistance from his CIA handler, desperate to make his way to America so he can leave behind the Socialist nation now on his tail. Justin Eugene Evans’s A Lonely Place for Dying, hitting the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival on its two year plus tour, puts all its cards on the table early as Agent Greenglass (Michael Wincott) tells Nikolai (Ross Marquand) no just before the Russian picks up another receiver with Washington Post editor Howard Simons (James Cromwell) listening in. Merely earning trust that he’s on the American side of the Vietnam fight, though, isn’t enough for Simons; he needs evidence of a story before risking his career to extricate the soldier from Laos. War crimes of genocide are dangled and the journalist takes the bait, promising a colleague will meet him in Mexico to lead him across the border after verifying the story. Unbeknownst to them, however, is Greenglass’s shrewd maneuvering to send his own man Harper (Michael Scovotti) instead, to quiet the traitor and save his own butt.
So, two men from different countries find themselves pitted against each other in an abandoned prison Nikolai chose so he’d have the upper hand in case of sabotage. Both think they know each other’s agenda, but ultimately find they’re being used by a rogue American agent and soon will need to team up in order to survive the day and return home. The action commences with the two sizing the other up, playing their mind games and working out whom the other is, but not why they are there. It’s a man-to-man combat chase with adrenaline riding high, both highly skilled and unafraid to use deception to find out answers. Those revelations aren’t expected, though, and the quarrel constructed by Greenglass makes its way into a tenuous alliance to take out the cleaning team sent as back up. With knowledge of the setting on their side, but a severe shortcoming on the part of weaponry—two switchblades against a quartet with AK-47s and pistols—the duo are thrust into a fight for their lives. And while Nikolai has no qualms killing anyone to earn his freedom, the job is harder for Harper since the team he trained is the one after them.
A Lonely Place for Dying exceeds its budgetary restraints due to a plot that entertains on an intellectual and visceral level. The first scene with Nikolai bunkered in a bombed out building while explosions ravage the outside, flashes of light flaring through the window, shows the attention to detail Evans and crew were willing to accomplish despite being unable to afford real explosives. Wincott is shown in an office while Cromwell, (a producer of the piece), is in a phone booth with a superimposed Washington DC in the background, their participation enough of a coup to gain some notoriety that their ten minutes total of screen time can be overlooked. They add a bit of credibility in the prologue’s exposition-heavy sequence so that when we get to Mexico and find only the unknown leads, we accept that they will be whom we spend the duration with. Nikolai’s paranoia sets in to make sure the man meeting him is who he says he is and Harper is ready to complete his task, kill the Russian, and destroy the evidence. It’s in the course of torture-induced information gathering that they discover their agendas must change.
When it is just the duo running around the prison, the movie finds itself moving at a quick clip—the hyper-kinetic cat and mouse chase leaving us wondering who will prevail. I actually thought and expected the film to continue with only Marquand and Scovotti running amok, injuring each other, and finding ways to extend the eventual end of one of their lives. That said, the fact the film expands halfway through, placing the two together in order to fight a common entity, makes it better. The intrigue of what exactly is going on and where these two fit into the big picture makes each second important and their lives at risk. It is two against four, but the script allows the dynamic to smartly reverse in the hunted’s favor with tidbits about gun accuracy and the knowledge of the prison able to separate the predators from each other to even the odds. The violence is well done with blood effects staying true to reality and refraining from turning the whole endeavor into a hyper-real parody of itself. A few deaths may drag out a tad too long, but the fact no one leaves unscathed makes up for the attempts at high drama.
Scovotti is the weaker link to the performances, often ‘acting’ rather than having a natural presence. He isn’t bad, though, especially for a film this independent, and perhaps I wouldn’t have even mentioned it if not for the more authentic turn by Marquand. Whether the Russian accent is believable or not—it worked for me—he understands the part. Cold, calm, and collected, his Nikolai has nothing on his mind except survival and is able to see the foursome there to kill him as an enemy needing to be disposed, not men doing a job. Conversely, Harper has lingering feelings of emotion, wanting to see his son again, and wanting to give his team the benefit of the doubt despite their betrayal. This fact is a necessary detail to make the film work, but might also call for more nuance than shown. Either way, they work well together and their plan for survival uses both of their skill sets to work towards a hopefully happy ending. Twists and turns continue to add intrigue and for the most part—there is some clunky comic relief in the script—A Lonely Place for Dying delivers on its premise of an entertaining action thriller.
courtesy of A Lonely Place for Dying official site