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the road

The Road
Director:  Owen Thomas
Writer:  Owen Thomas
Cast:  Matthew Buckner, Virginia Buckner, Kimberly Chong, Christopher Michael Holley, Yvonne Koenig, Danton Mew, Ariele Senara, Owen Thomas

Joanne Ross

July 8, 2008


For those of us who aren’t experts on Indian religions, we at least have a basic understanding that karma concerns human behavior and the laws of cause and effect. If we simplify it further, we could sum it up this way:  if we do good things, good things will happen to us; if we do bad things, bad things will happen to us. Human beings are ultimately responsible for their behavior, and its consequences.

In this world of ours today, it seems like politeness is non-existent, simple acts of kindness are harder to find, and the words “thank you”, “please”, “excuse me”, and “I’m sorry” have been deleted from people’s mental dictionaries.  Even worse, just watch the news or look at the newspapers and you’ll read about heinous crimes committed on a daily basis.  If we believe in karma, then there’s going to be a karmic backlash of epic proportions for every bad intention and deed one person perpetrates against another.

But, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, it seems, the guilty never get punished, and more importantly, we know bad things do happen to people who do nice things.  The concept of karma is explored in The Road, a six-minute, short-subject comedy by actor/director Owen Thomas—a movie about random acts of kindness and some other things as well. Thomas shows promise as a director. His first movie, The Road is engaging and ultimately provocative, and employs a surprise twist at the end.

Chuck (director Thomas) and his dog Cody are out walking along the marina. He extends a helping hand to Raya, a jogger (Ariele Senara). And so Chuck’s small gesture of kindness begins its journey in this movie about strangers helping strangers. After thanking Chuck, Raya jogs over the grassy hill and meets up with Cleophis (Christopher Michael Holley), whose car is about to get ticketed by Officer Damian (Danton Mew). Just in time, Raya pops a quarter into the meter for Cleophis, thus keeping him from getting a ticket. And so the journey continues, as each person who comes along does a good deed for another, “pay-it-forward” style.

The editing in this film was done so well, the scenes flowed from one to the other so smoothly, effortlessly, and seamlessly I had to remind myself that this brief film wasn’t one long tracking shot.
But what I liked most about The Road is Thomas’s wicked sense of humor. Using an upbeat, but strangely compelling score that builds urgently, and coupled with the acting and cinematography, he manages to create this slightly surreal landscape populated with smiling, benevolent people who treat others kindly and enjoy doing it. There were moments when I was certain I stumbled into Mister Rogers' Neighborhood or even the town of Stepford, CT.  But something is lurking beneath that placid surface.

The journey of that one act of kindness finally comes full circle. The final encounter occurs between Chuck, now home from his walk, and a young woman named Sybil (Yvonne Koenig). And it is here in this scene where the film falters.

For the comedy to really work, the payoff has to be big. The simple storyline here means the movie can really go in one of two directions. One, the kind acts become more substantial as each act occurs, building to something like an “ultimate kind act” if there is such a thing, however subjective.  Or two, you reverse the audience’expectations—the first direction.  Thomas chose the latter, and that is what is depicted in the last scene between the characters Chuck and Sybil.

However, the reversal of expectations isn’t abrupt or jarring enough to produce the punch needed to be “ha-ha” funny. That doesn’t come across in the final scene. Unlike Owen’s character, Koenig’s acting choice is too non-specific and comes across as wishy-washy. Her beautiful face with the cheeky grin and the casual shrug of her shoulders doesn’t play the reality of what's happening. The scene should also have a subtle sinister feel to it, which could have been accomplished a number of ways—slight changes to lighting, framing, camera angles. If you take that final scene in its present state and juxtapose it against everything that has gone before, the contrast isn’t stark or shocking enough to get the audience to gasp—and laugh at loud. The twist ending doesn’t have as strong an impact as it could have had.

The Road is an entertaining and well-directed film. Owen Thomas is definitely a talented director. Given the theme and the story line, there was potential here for a witty, sardonic comedy sequence. Thomas’ film, unfortunately, fell just slightly short of the mark.*--JR


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