Harrison Montgomery – DVD Review

Going off of the assumption that screen icon Martin Landau is still viable enough to sell a movie director Daniel Davila has placed him front and center in his new film, Harrison Montgomery, putting his image on the poster and having him play the title character. It’s a fine enough strategy but a tiny bit deceptive as Harrison himself could hardly even be considered a backup singer on this song. Yes, we do have something of a kinder, gentler, less homoerotic Finding Forrester going on here with Harrison being one of those crazy old kooks who double as an all knowing savant, and yes his existence does prove pivotal to the conflict and resolution of the plot but his overall screen time probably clocks in somewhere around the 10 minute mark. The real story here is Ricardo (Octavio Gomez Berrios), a young street artist/drug dealer who is struggling to get by and find his identity in modern day San Francisco.

The crux of the story involves an unlikely friendship that blossoms between Ricardo and the neighbor girl Lattie (Krista Ott) who keeps injecting herself into his life. She’s only 13 but we know that her street credibility is in place because she wears a cigarette behind her ear and talks openly about masturbation. She also has a mom, Margo (Melora Walters), who is the real victim of this story as she is stuck dating a drunken louse who we just know is itching to teach her, old school style, how to respect the man of the house. To keep the action flowing while also keeping an eye on these rather mundane lives Davila keeps expertly turning the screws of the plot. Ricardo, you see, has a large outstanding debt to the local drug lord that needs to be paid off pronto. We also can’t help but wait for the other shoe to drop in Margo’s ticking time bomb of a relationship. Davila is even unafraid of resorting to real live cliffhangers that may grate on you and may chip away from the film’s realism but does wonders for the enjoyment factor.

Davila is also very good at digging into his characters personal lives and using the skeletons he finds to bring his creations into vibrant color on screen. Ricardo, for instance, is a tough one to wrap your head around.

Early on he attempts to empty the drug stash of the girl he is banging into his pocket and is only redeemed by the fact that the girl was simultaneously, and much more successfully, robbing him blind. But then we feel for him when he goes to visit his family (probably to ask for money though it is never made explicit) and is shunned by his step-mom and semi-rejected by his father. I appreciate having multi-dimensional characters who are made of flesh and blood and who have a yin and a yang that make up their lives. Ricardo’s actions throughout are less than admirable but we also know that a man has to do what a man has to do to survive. And lucky for us, with the exception of poor, neglected Harrison, all of the main players are just as fully realized and complex.

Without question the film is flawed in many ways great and small. The cinematography struggles with spatial relations, it has a subtle sneering attitude towards bohemian lifestyles, and its idea of a life lesson is that money solves everything. But despite all that Harrison Montgomery is worth your time. Its script is magical and the lives we are watching are gripping and relatable. Davila leans heavily on formulas and clichés but they sustain him, and when, at the end, all of the chips begin to fall into place perfectly and beautifully you won’t mind at all even though your brain will be telling you that you’re being bamboozled. It doesn’t have the capacity to change your life but it is a shining example of what can still be accomplished with low budget cinema.

No complaints with the look and sound of this picture, has the feel of any other standard issue, non-Blu-Ray disc.

The disc comes with a director’s commentary, a behind the scenes documentary, 2 deleted scenes, and the official trailer for the film. Strikes a nice balance of giving the consumer a little bit extra while also not overwhelming them with crap they neither need nor want. Commentaries are always a big plus for me, this one is safe, unmemorable but entertaining for nerds like myself.

Despite being 85 years old Martin Landau is still pumping out quality work. This performance certainly won’t speak to the kids the way his five-episode turn on Entourage did (“Does that sound like something you might be interested in?”) but we should remember to appreciate him while we still have him. The film itself is filled with underbelly elements (sex, drugs and rock n roll) but is actually catering to an older, more conservative audience. Underneath it all Harrison Montgomery is a sugary sweet fairy tale that just happens to have a scene wherein somebody gets attacked with a staple gun.

IndiePix Films presents Harrison Montgomery. Directed by: Daniel Davila. Starring: Martin Landau, Octavio Gomez Berrios, Melora Walters, Krista Ott Written by: Karim Ahmad, Daniel Davila, Cliff Traiman. Running time: 95 minutes. Rating: NR. Released on DVD: October 26, 2010.