BNFF12 REVIEW: Shuffle [2010]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 17 minutes | Release Date: 2010 (USA)
Director(s): Garrett Bennett
Writer(s): Garrett Bennett & Aron Michael Thompson / Aron Michael Thompson (story)

“What was he doing up anyway?”

The last line of a Steve McQueen quote used as an epilogue to Garrett Bennett‘s Shuffle sums the theme of the film up nicely:

“I was always kind of a coward until I had to prove it to myself.”

These are words I believe everyone could relate to—whether you had love growing up or not. At some point each and every one of us must find an excuse to keeping going. We cannot live our lives indebted to another’s cause or desires. So many times we confuse subservient passivity as security, blindly doing the bidding of a someone we think has our best interests at heart, but really sees us as nothing more than a pawn to move along the board.

Co-written by lead actor Aron Michael Thompson, this dark look at a hitman’s opportunity for clarity resonates in its ability to humanize its antihero by letting him discover the moral code he’s possessed all along. For Bodhi, life never showed him the infinite possibilities we hope we can inspire our children to seek. To him life was a series of murders—whether just or not—as father figure Big Boss (Denis Arndt) taught a warped definition of “right” to suit the lifestyle they led. Until faced with a decision to put an innocent’s safety above his own, Bodhi never understood the true value of existence.

Filling the void of depression with routine, duty, and loyalty, this grown man was still the scared little boy taken in by a monster long ago. Vulnerable, lost, and without family, he allowed himself to be molded into a killing machine without a shred of whatever charity he may have been taught by a father involved some unsavory dealings himself. Any sense of obligation, however, disappears once he realizes the web of destruction is dragging him down. If he were to complete the final job asked of him by the man who’s been both the cause of his sorrow and the way to overcome it, any kindness or compassion held beneath his hard exterior would flitter away. Bodhi’s soul is on the line and when the stakes reach such heights, cowardice no longer has a place in your vocabulary.

Utilizing a contract killer trope that may be its most obvious—see In Bruges for another example—Thompson and Bennett’s script’s mixing of children in with the nefarious deeds of professional killers gives the film a cyclical mirroring of past and present. Stylish in its use of color to highlight the blacks and grays of the palette as well as denoting memory by vignette borders, Shuffle finds itself composed in a shallow depth of field to keep us in the action. Rarely is anything in focus we aren’t supposed to be looking at and such clarity allows our attention to focus on the dialogue. This is important considering the bulk of the film deals with Arndt and Thompson engaging in a chess match to prove who’s in control.

I get that Bodhi is an empty vessel and devoid of social niceties like warmth and personality as Big Boss’ right hand, but Thompson may play it a little too dour. Denis Arndt’s inspired performance only makes this point clearer as he lets the restraint and detail of wielding power give way to the animated enjoyment of the games he uses to lord it over those in his employ. Deftly peppered with the f-word, his words never reach caricature and the twinkle in his eye never fades straight to the last shuffle of cards deciding Bodhi’s fate. Plot tells us why the hitman has visited his boss for release, but it’s Arndt’s portrayal of criminal royalty that lets us believe he could smooth talk anyone into doing his bidding.

The smug confidence of Big Boss towards his own immortality intrigues the most. Bodhi proves manipulable to the end until tables turn and we begin to wonder if he was in control from the start. An opening credit sequence fading in and out between two distinct timelines starts to hold more meaning as we decipher the job causing Bodhi to clean his gun. Discovering when sleepwalking through life is no longer enough can come in the blink of an eye. Our hope is that we haven’t already become so jaded that we miss it.

[1] Bodhi threatens Big Boss
[2] Big Boss (Denis Arndt) expresses his displeasure with Bodhi
[3] Bodhi (Aron Michael Thompson) talks with Big Boss

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