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Rated 2.97 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
O,That Way Madness Lies
by Donald Levit

"Schizophrenia" is the word Tim McCann uses in talking about his second feature, Revolution #9, when that writer-director speaks of the frightening symptoms of the disease and also about cuts in government funding, treatment and facilities for the mentally ill. While not specifying this particular disorder -- or perhaps I am simply not familiar enought to identify it -- nor sufficiently detailing officialdom to condemn the bureaucracy of social and medical services (or lack thereof), McCann's film succeeds in portraying the dizzy descent into madness and, even more, the effect on loved ones, friends and associates.

James Jackson (Michael Risley), estranged from his uncaring Ohio father and earning a small living by writing New York restaurant-bar reviews, announces to his girlfriend Kim’s (Adrienne Shelly) family they are engaged. The family’s subdued reaction is not encouraging: brother Joe tries to pass off his immediate obscenity as a "joke," but in private her father repeats the same word to describe the match, and similar questions about "joke" and "prank" are later used regarding Jack’s actions.

We see and learn nothing about the couple’s previous year-and-a-half together, nor is anything revealed about Joe’s past. Not even a sunny snapshot of the man he used to be. In medias res, into the middle of things, the film plunges but never looks backwards to treat of beginnings, earlier events or hints. The unfortunate man goes only forward in time, and downward, and his and Kim’s ordeal opens suddenly at their feet for no discernible reason. (Of course, such illnesses actually do strike with no warning, and that may be one of its worst aspects.)

The decline is swift, for McCann mercilessly gives not a single break of momentary tenderness or soul-searching. Within days, Jack’s job-and-marriage-to-be-world crumbles before the assault of his acute persecution complex. Believing himself the target of mysterious technological attack by "corporate armies of the media"-- the facile ironic parallel is likely unintentional, but who in Western civilization is not? -- Jack sinks into sensory and aural delusion and focuses growing, latently dangerous anger on a television advertisement for Revolution Cosmetics.

Determined not to be a "guinea pig" or "experimental animal," he plots to reach Scooter McCrae (Spalding Gray), the pathetic photographer who designed the Rev9 perfume ad campaign. The question is, what madness will Jack carry out, for this is obviously not one of those thrillers with an ending that will prove him heroically sane in uncovering nefarious hacker conspirators.

Some, but not all, bureaucrats and medical staff insist Jack is "not dangerous to himself, or others." But his delusions and schemes do lead to violence, although the film wisely leaves two major potential instances unrecorded and thus ambiguous.

Despite a needless chapter-like sequence of yellow numbers 1-to-9 displayed against black -- also the colors of the strange note to McCrae -- Revolution #9 takes advantage of the basics of film medium by creating Jack’s nightmare through use of shadows and back lighting, handholds and focus shifts, grainy development and neon colors, snips and fades in voice-sound, unobtrusive sirens, car alarms and an occasional mixed snarl-gurgle. Faces are often lit in extreme close-up, and while some are kindly -- the wrinkled, spectacled judge’s is marvelous -- others are unconcerned or unsettling, like a hospital guard’s and the rent collection man’s. Dickens-like, even faucets and mops and scratched, stacked plastic chairs build this world of seemingly menacing detail.

Risley’s is a thankless lead, for he need only be stoically single-minded; close-up, scowlly five-o’clock-shadowed, he is bewildered and yet certain and earnest, unconscious of the pain in himself and others. Gray’s Scooter is subtle, a good portrait of the pompous but not unintelligent artist who has never risen to his dreams. Ms. Shelly is excellent: her Kim, too, is bewildered, second-guessed by family and friends, but above all loyal (although one wonders how much she may be prompted by a sense of guilt).

Probably in most cities, certainly the one where I live, so many people in the street, or restaurants or shops or on trains and buses, are undeniably strange. They move or act a bit odd, they talk to themselves (or "someone"). Revolution #9 details the madness of one individual -- by extension, of many -- and, aside from that personal hell, makes one consider the potential for sudden gratuitous violence among fellow citizens. What it does, it does well. However, more would be better. With no background, no "before," we do not know the "normal" Jack or the good times with his girl --who surely loves him for what he once was -- and so the viewers remain aloof, uninvolved at a distance from this screen world. A deeper view of more rounded people would have elicited empathy and given a sense of innocent goodness perverted, of love betrayed, and the experience would have been all the richer for it. 

(Released by Cineblast Productions, Inc.; no MPAA rating available.)

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