Many of the movies at any Atlanta Film Festival you might attend are of Georgia descent. And, unfortunately, much of the time, I feel uncomfortably let down by many of these films (particularly the shorts, which often feel like half-baked student projects suitable for only the most kindly inclusionary festival outlets).
With Solace, an Atlanta-based feature helmed by the talented Vandon N. Gibbs, I found myself pleasantly surprised. The movie is perhaps too rigidly constructed, and much too devoted to its padded screenplay (this 76-minute movie could have been reduced by ten minutes, no problem). But Solace does highlight Gibbs' gift for compelling dialogue, and it provides a plum vehicle for some local actors who deserve wider consideration.
Solace begins with a 20-minute scene that takes place in the parked SUV belonging to Bug (a superbly funny and menacing Dupree Lewis Jr.). He's meeting with a man who's clearly contracting him for a job, though we never learn what the job really is. Bug is an admitted hoodrat who spends his time with his distinctly whitebread client Nolan (Robert Pralgo, who keeps up but cannot compete), alternately denegrating and getting closer to him (he learns that Nolan is from Iowa, and Bug doesn't even know where that is). The actor Dupree has obviously studied the work of Samuel L. Jackson, and thought his performance feels indebted to the veteran actor, Dupree still makes for a charismatic young stand-in. Pralgo, meanwhile, projects a steely toughness while somehow being flummoxed by this too-long run-in with Bug's exhausting character. Their vibrant scene together is enough to get the viewer invested in what happens during Solace.
The film's second 20-minute act takes place in the upscale home of an aspiring politician, played by Ric Reitz. He arrives home to an agitated wife (a fine Rhoda Griffis), who who might have the goods on his sideline activities. Though the dialogue here is cuttingly intense, this is this nominal anthology film's weakest segment (Solace totally feels like three short movies in search of a common denominator). This is also the portion in which the film's talented cinematogapher, Robert Halliday Jr., most apparently falters with some unsure handheld camerawork.
The third act has Dixie Light playing the bruised and bound victim of a surprisingly compassionate hitman waiting with her in an abandoned warehouse for further instructions. The hitman is played by a drawling Russell Durham Comegys, and his performance is perhaps (next to the charismatic Lewis) the highlight of the movie, in that his character has the most difficult decision to make. Comegys transmits both determination and understanding in his communing with hitjob Light. Moreover, this final 20 minutes, with its grey locale interrupted by vivid graffiti, is the most visually bewitching section of the film (as usual, with most anthology films--even ones whose portions are connected--the first and the final segments are the most beguiling). Here, in close-ups, in medium and long shots (with tense editing between each), Gibbs' film comes alive like it hasn't before, even though White's performance, while suitable, cannot match that of Comegys (who really seems like he could go the way of Matthew McConaughey).
There is no question: Gibbs can write a helluva scene. And he's also surefooted as a director (he knows where to place the camera, for the most part). But I'd advise him to cut, cut, cut...cut down to the detailed essentials. I'd advise him to not be so in love with every line he's written, and to be even more honest, and to be more demanding with his well-chosen actors. Solace is not perfect (though it has a terrific final shot that raises many questions). But, as it stands, the movie is an easily predictable, but nonetheless notable calling card for Gibbs, his cinematographer, and his cast.