When I Find Bin Laden (2006)

(Premiere Date: March 25th, 2006)

Thu, 27 Apr 2006 14:03:52 -0700 (PDT)

The enigmatic and ambitious psycho-commentary on social futility. Hellova Genre There!

J.C. Mašek III
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When I Find Bin Laden is a very low budget, very independent film, and that shows in a number of ways. There are occasional ambient sound issues that overcome the continuity of the listener's ear. The film sometimes looks like a soap opera, and sometimes like a home movie. It makes one appreciate some of the steadiness of the "Whoreywood" films that I make fun of every day. This isn't quite the film that's ready for viewing in your usual multiplex.

Now that that is out of the way, I can start telling you about the transcendence of this little independent movie. Director James Bridges's When I Find Bin Laden is a very interesting film that doesn't merely rest on the excuse that the budget is low and turn in substandard work. No. Bridges is careful to coax the golden egg from the goose, and the result is a smart and entertaining film. While not without its flaws, I can honestly say that here, now, in its present form, I enjoyed this much more than the mass-produced cookie-cutter fare of the cineplex. If Bridges did this without studio support, give this man a stipend and he's got a hell of a great string of films in his future.

Helping Bridges prove that budget doesn't make the film is the fine actor Adam Hampton. Hampton brings us Justin Cable, a young man recently paroled from prison on drug charges who is eager to re-assimilate into real life outside. The problem is that the more stable things feel the more abnormal they seem to Justin. Though he's desperate to have a normal life again with his girlfriend Sunny (Savannah Stacy), hold down a regular job and stay away from the elements that led him to the joint in the first place, Justin finds himself dislodged from that proverbial round hole and stumbles about, looking for something firm to hang on to.

Scripter Mark Walling shows his skill with the pen as Justin broods poetically about the nature of freedom and the cold concept of exchanging one prison for another. As Justin finds himself falling into some of the same old patterns (though hopefully not the same old "habits"), his world becomes equally more familiar and more dangerous at the same time. Before long, Justin finds himself balanced precariously between his old life, his prison life and his current life, all of which are layering themselves into one surreal, tense present. Justin's motivations and his measurement of truths versus lies becomes unhinged as he delves farther into the underworld, ironically with the help of his parole officer (Bailey Vaughn) and a police detective (Charles Pitts). His life becomes a further frayed dichotomy as the further he falls into darkness, the more he ironically serves the light. It's enough to drive anyone mad... even a liberal freak like me.

Along the way, Justin begins to mingle with a series of characters who leave "colorful" behind at the last rest stop. There's the seemingly insane Bush-Bashing, mulleted, bald drifter played by Kevin Worden, the beautiful but strung out junkie Krishna (Julia Curry), the overweight, psycho-honkey Mr. T-impersonating drug-dealing family man named Roachard (Shawn Martin), the mysterious lady GC (Angelina Quillen, also pretty darned hot), and the dashing, high-level pusher named Vince (Park Oruch), who loves his car as much as the ladies. As the trail gets hotter, Justin's detective handler begins to realize that they just might be onto the mother lode, a master propagandist and drug networking kingpin known only as "The Baron". Knowing what (the real) prison has done to our hero, Justin is determined to find out who the Baron is in the hopes of saving his buddy Chuck (Bo Cannon) from the big house. But who is the Baron, and can Justin find him (or her) in time to save his friend, considering that ever step he takes closer to the answer is traded for a measure of lucidity, as his mind turns to white powder all over again?

I, for one, couldn't wait to see where it was going, and the enigmatic ending (which I would no more spoil for you than I would snort live fire ants through a dollar bill) left me wanting more. I tip the hat to Bridges, as well as his friends at Phigment Philms (not to mention Outsiders Productions) for the very ambition of this project. Bridges experiments with the camera here just as Walling does with words. The influence of films like Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs as well as Soderberg's Traffic is written all over this peice from the challenging angles of the close ups to the use of filtered color to set mood in scene by scene. The transition from color scheme to color scheme, as well as grainy to crystal clear, is generally an enhancement to an already engrossing film.

Like many who juggle multiple experiments at once, James Bridges ultimately has a few that don't work quite as well and the seams show here and there. The use of psychedelic camera tricks to simulate the effects of a character being high works sometimes better than others, but it always conveys the message it shoots for. Further Bridges also edited this film, and his skills at maintaining the continuity of mood and mode is pretty exciting for an indie such as this. Still, once in a while a shot seems to launch awkwardly right after camera-placement and the shout of "action". His intermingling of score and songs (along with a continuity of unbroken dialogue) over various cuts makes a good effort even better. While a certain electronic arpeggio that continues as a transitory motif is used a bit too often, Adam Hampton's own minimalist and reverberating version of Lead Belly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" (though it's credited on the DVD as "In The Pines") is an eerie and appropriate clincher right at the point that it counts.

Lastly, the cast is filled with talented actors, who occasionally have minor moments during which they appear to be "acting", as opposed to losing oneself in a character. There is a theater stage feel to the proceedings here that makes sense, and occasionally (though it's the exception and not the rule) a line or two sounds like that second night sophomore slump in community theater (a pain I know far too well). Because the cast feels strong in so many moments, a swallowed syllable, an obviously pulled punch or kick or a missed opportunity for expression sticks out more than it would in a pool of amateurs (see Bloodbath... no, actually, don't see it).

The point is that there are natural limitations for any low budget film. The actors have day jobs, as do the director, producers, writer, etc. There will always be lighting, location and sound limitations, and there will always be instances during which more time would have better served the final cut. However, all of these facts put together still don't make this a bad film. While I'm willing to make allowances for the limitations here, I'm far from grading this one on a curve.

Two things truly make a movie above budget, effects, and all else: 1) The story, 2) The way it's told. Walling has written an interesting (if occasionally obscure) story that is told engrossingly by Bridges. When I Find Bin Laden (a title you'll have to watch the film to reconcile with) never left me bored, and always had a surprise up its sleeve, even if it wasn't the surprise I would have hoped for. Take a group of actors for an independent Southern US studio with a writer and a director with a dream, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you get Manos the Hands of Fate! Personally, I feel that I've just been exposed to a potentially great director and writer with a vision. Three Stars out of Five for When I Find Bin Laden. It's not pleasant or pretty, and can be downright violent and sick occasionally, but it most certainly does what it's set out to do, and will probably make you laugh and think as it does. When I Find Bin Laden is beginning its run in various film festivals around the country. Check out www.PhigmentPhilms.com for more on this and other upcoming films, hopefully you can see the next one... meanwhile I'll see you in the next reel.

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When I Find Bin Laden (2006) Reviewed by J.C. Mašek III
who is solely responsible his own views
And for the fact that Freedom costs a buck oh five.
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Could've used an Orgy...
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