Shadows is the latest film from writer/director Michael Matteo Rossi and the third to come up for review here. While I found Chase to be a solid, if flawed, thriller, The Handler left me less than impressed. This time out he set some lofty goals for himself,
“In the same vein of early Scorsese, Michael Mann, and James Cameron films, I wanted to tell a character driven story about family, loyalty and the protector type dynamic.”Michael Matteo Rossi
Does he have the talent to back up those ambitions? Will Shadows be his Mean Streets?
Cody (Rahart Adams, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Liar, Liar, Vampire) is a low-level drug dealer in Los Angeles. He’s estranged from his mother Jewel (Krista Allen, Feast, Paycheck) a crack-addicted prostitute. She swears she clean for good now, but years of living in the foster care system while she said the same thing has left him understandably skeptical of her promises.
However, when some high-end merchandise he bought turns out to be a new designer drug skimmed from the stock of the psychotically violent Nicholas (David Labrava, Hunter’s Moon, Sons of Anarchy) Cody finds he’s in way over his head and his family may be all he has to turn to.
Rossi sets the main characters and story up efficiently through the first act before starting the second act literally with a bang as Cody’s attempt to impress Michelle (Rachel Alig, The Cleaning Lady, Verotika) one of his mother’s stablemates goes from attempted gang rape to multiple homicides. when Nicholas’ man Dean (Eric Etebari, 3 Tickets to Paradise, Stoker Hills) shows up.
The plot very quickly takes an unexpected turn that will probably have some viewers rolling their eyes as Dean turns out to be the uncle Cody’s mother never mentioned he had. Putting family first he saved Cody and marked himself for death as well. Can they fight their way out and beat Nicholas at his own game?
The last hour of Shadows cuts loose as Nicholas sends Axel (Francis Capra, Crank, The Strain) and a pair of psychotic hit women Ruby (Cathy Baron, Killer Cove, Dead Stop) and Amber (Eve Mauro, Agent Revelation, Crepitus) after them with orders to leave neither survivors nor witnesses. And in the midst of all of this Cody will have to face his feelings and the truth about his mother. If he lives that long.
Being a low-budget film Shadows can’t deliver a lot of action scenes, but it makes the ones it does have count and makes the most of its thriller elements to keep the tension high between them. It helps that the villains are a particularly scummy and intimidating bunch played by actors who know what they’re doing. The film as a whole is actually very well cast, although I do wish Rossi had done more with Vernon Wells (No Name and Dynamite, Commando) who is wasted in a rather thankless part. Also be watching for Chris Levine (No Way Out, Await the Dawn) in a small role.
I really have few bad things to say about Shadows beyond my usual complaints about digital blood and bullet effects. While actually comparing Shadows to Mean Streets would be a bit of a stretch it is a superior crime film and does a good job of mixing drama and action and never feels overlong despite its hundred and one minute running time.
Shadows is not only Rossi’s best film, but it’s also one of the best low-budget crime films I’ve seen in a while, I’ll be looking forward to his next film, The Sweepers, when it comes out in September.