“Every time I sit down to write”
The best part of Dave Boyle‘s Man From Reno is its construction. He introduces Aki Akahori (Ayako Fujitani) and Sheriff Del Moral (Pepe Serna) separately, each contending with their own mystery man in a way that gives us pause to think whether their stories are concurrent. For all we know one disappeared stranger is the same as the other’s, one path ending where the other begins. Or perhaps they’re two pieces of a puzzle Boyle and cowriters Joel Clark and Michael Lerman keep shrouded in conjecture much longer than you’d anticipate. It’s a wonderfully timed reveal chock full of gorgeously framed shots lost in fog or through the chained crack of a hotel room door. Add countless identity swaps and you end up losing yourself in figuring out which prove pertinent to character and which to plot.
Some are key to both, but you won’t know which until the last frame due to nothing being quite what it seems. One mystery makes way towards another as assumed villains turn out to be curious bystanders and carefully hatched plans evolve in response to the ever-changing climate of discovery. What appears to wholly concern a criminal scheme with subtle clues turns quite suddenly into a much darker thriller about survival taking a detour that would make an audience-pleasing Hollywood cringe. To think Boyle approached this story from a mindset of paring down an epic script his producer suggested might be too big is hard to believe. There’s so much going on here that his mothballed Osaka Bay Blues must be absolutely insane. No matter its sprawling scope, however, Boyle handles it all with expert precision.
Splitting the heavy lifting is as important a decision for success as it is entertainment because we aren’t reliant on one character to be our objective tactician and emotionally compromised collateral damage at the same time. For Del Moral’s part, his search as an officer of the law is based in evidence free from preconception. His search for the “Running Man” (Hiroshi Watanabe) is due to personal curiosity considering how their paths intersected, but also in terms of a rare homicide within his San Marco County. As for Aki, she is battling her own demons and only arrived in San Francisco to escape the publicity tour of the latest installment in her pulp novel series “Inspector Takabe”. And just when happiness appears possible for the first time in years, the enigmatic Akira Suzuki (Kazuki Kitamura) vanishes.
Enter the violent threats of two goons (Thomas Cokenias and Geo Epsilanty), a paparazzi photographer (Masami Kosaka) forever in the background, and a head of lettuce. Yes, you read that correctly and yes, the vegetable plays an integral role. Aki for all intents and purposes falls inside one of her books, remaining vigilant and paranoid as she internally hypothesizes the trajectory of her reality to stay a step or two ahead of the carnage coming more and more into focus as each hour goes by. When the overlap occurs so Sheriff Del Moral can join her, it looks as though answers are coming. But then you look at your watch, realize another forty minutes are left, and settle in for the roller coaster of suspense birthing even more questions while its truth proves even more complex.
Unsurprisingly, the excitement and danger of the chase inspires Aki to continue writing, this time removed from the “Takabe” persona. She embraces the mystery, yearning to find the man who broke through her defenses. The rub is that she does so more to “finish the story” then to continue along a road towards potential love. Someone is using her as a pawn, but the way her life turns upside down as a result reminds her about her true passion. The same can be said for Del Moral because you can see a fire in his eyes once the case that gets him out of the office. Who knows the last time he had a case this huge? He dives in headfirst until the stones he turns over show how close to home everything hits. But there’s always more.
The three core actors are all at the top of their game with cinematographer Richard Wong shooting them in a way that enhances each performance. He and Boyle planned the script out shot by shot to ensure they got exactly what they’d need in the editing room on an independent budget affording just one camera. Everything making it onscreen is therefore devoid of excess. We see only what they want us to see exactly when they’ll allow it. So we’re exposed to half a face through the gap between door and frame, guessing whom it might be before a slight shift reveals his other cheek covered in bandages. When we enter a room it’s with the specific intention of noticing forgotten luggage, imprinted carpets where objects should be, and expressive parties in shocked surprise or smug expectation.
Periphery characters are given multiple hats to keep things tidy and assist in this economy of script and production. Catalysts for action are generally revealed as familiar faces and those doing the grunt work have some connection to the leads whether superficial or not. There’s a claustrophobic element at work because of this since the lack of random actors means the antagonists must be someone we already know. A truth like this ratchets up the suspense and gets the brain running to find solutions we cannot begin to guess thanks to its constantly changing plot forks. Everything is precisely where it needs to be and the filmmakers never shy from forcing us to notice such. I genuinely felt in the dark throughout because even if a guess comes close, it’s quickly rendered moot when the question is changed.
 Ayako Fujitani. Photo Credit: Ron Koeberer/Eleven Arts
 Elisha Skorman, Pepe Serna. Photo Credit: Nicole Rosario/Eleven Arts
 Ayako Fujitani, Kazuki Kitamura. Photo Credit: Nicole Rosario/Eleven Arts