by Glenn Lovell
It’s a scenario that’s sure to resonate with fans of classic noir: a man just released from prison vows to turn over a new leaf and “go straight,” but past deeds and associations conspire to trip him up. We’ve seen this hard luck story played out numerous times, usually with Lancaster or Mitchum as the chump-hero shadow boxing with Fate.
“Forged,” directed by William Wedig, offers a refreshing spin on this familiar plot. The setting is blue-collar Scranton, Penna. Ex-convict Chuco, strongly played by Manny Perez (“La Soga”), is a former member of a local gang. Check “former.” Virtually waiting for him at the prison gate is a leering hood (Kevin Breznahan) whose “Welcome back to the world, Chuco” has the same sinister ring as Michael Corleone’s “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
As if this weren’t distressing enough, Chuco’s 13-year-old son Machito (David Castro) also has unfinished business with the old man, who went away 8 1/2 years ago for killing his wife. “You killed my mother … and I’m going to kill you,” the kid offers by way of a hello.
Will Chuco return to his old ways as drug courier for the deceptively paternal Cesar (Jaime Tirelli behind Foster Grants, channeling half a dozen Mafia dons)? Will Chuco make amends and bond with Machito before the boy blows him away? And what of Chuco’s stepmother (veteran Margo Martindale)? Will she put down the bottle long enough to make a new home for the barely speaking father and son?
The set-up might be a tad melodramatic, but the execution is anything but. Debuting director Wedig, who has a definite feel for life on the outskirts, is telling a small story with big emotions. He’s abetted in this task by many of the talents behind the Santiago-set “La Songa,” including, besides, Perez, cinematographer Zeus Morand and composer Evan Wilson. Morand supplied the crisp “Winter’s Bone” look, Wilson the simple but effective guitar theme.
But what really makes this film is Perez’s performance. Somehow, the actor, who co-scripted with Wedig, finds the right balance between nagging guilt and stubborn bravado. His character walks with a pronounced limp, both a reminder of his unspeakable crime and an outward manifestation of his battered soul.
While too languorous and self-consciously arty in spots ‒ we could have done without the slow-mo interludes ‒ “Forged,” opening soon at San Francisco’s Opera Plaza, can’t be accused of hewing to the tried-and-true in the homestretch. The open-ended ending is as uncompromising as it is gutsy. Wedig and Perez are obviously talents to watch, and nurture.
FORGED ✮✮1/2 With Manny Perez, David Castro, Jaime Tirelli, Margo Martindale, Kevin Breznahan. Directed by William Wedig; scripted by Wedig, Perez. 77 min. No MPAA rating (could be R for language, shooting violence)