July 21, 2008
Rule of Three has the kind of script that could exist just as happily on a stage as on a screen. Pretty much all of it plays out in a single room. There is very little in the way of dynamic action going on – it’s all dialogue and character driven and very well done in these respects.
Keeping an audience on the hook in such limited parameters is a real challenge, so it’s to the credit of writing team Eric Shapiro and Rhoda Jordan that they constructed something that remains engaging and suspenseful throughout. The story begins with a distraught father and mother on TV, appealing to the public for any information regarding the disappearance of their daughter, who was last seen in a hotel room with her boyfriend.
The character of Jon, played with a decidedly unpleasant level of intensity by Ben Siegler, is the tortured and obsessed father of the missing girl who is at his breaking point over what he sees as mass incompetence on the part of the police. It’s difficult to empathize with this man because he’s bursting at the seams with rage, but that’s exactly how director Shapiro wanted it so the performance was very fitting. He haunts the hotel room where his daughter was last seen, paying the bellhop off for access and another chance to dig around, in case he can find any tiny thing that might’ve been overlooked by the police. On this particular day, a breakthrough occurs in the form of a note on his car when he returns from scouring the room – we do not know if it’s a note from a kidnapper or a potential killer involved in the crime. We don’t know if it’s a sick prank perpetrated by someone who saw the father’s televised plea for help. All we know is that Jon has a gun, and he is waiting patiently in that hotel room for the “closure” on the case that the sketchy note promises at 3 o’clock sharp that afternoon.
The rest of the plot exists in dual timeframes spent in the same hotel room in the not too distant past. It’d be a burn against the story to reveal what the circumstances are, so I won’t spoil it and simply recommend that you see it for yourself. What I can tell you is that the things that transpire in that room are anywhere from uneasy to unpleasant to downright horrific. Rodney Eastman does a terrific turn here as a sleazy drug dealer named Russ – his charm is offset by an ever-lurking sense of menace. He’s obviously bad news, but you can’t really tell just how dangerous he actually is, which makes him scarier than someone you can tell is a full-on psycho at first glance. His client is a middle aged business creep who has some dubious plans for an evening of entertainment, and the pair of them become entwined by a nasty turn those plans take. From there, it all spirals downward and goes straight to hell, and the nastiness takes pretty much every character down with it to some degree.
I think the one thing that bugged me about the film was how antihuman it felt on a fundamental level. There are only two types of people in this film – those who exploit and abuse, and those on the receiving end of exploitation and abuse. However, director Shapiro pointed out that the film was meant to be prodding and divisive, so there you go. If that’s the effect he wanted, he certainly got it. Fantasia’s Mitch Davis introduced the screening by likening the writing to that of David Mamet, which was right on the money. There’s even a bit of dialogue in Rule of Three that is near exact to the titular character of Stuart Gordon’s Edmond, pertaining to how the cost of vice is scrutinized by clueless middle aged men with an overblown sense of entitlement. Edmond liked to try and haggle at strip joints and peep shows, and he got angry when his paltry offers were rightly scoffed at. Here, the businessman character thinks it’s okay to call a drug dealer to drive out 40 miles for a five dollar sale – it doesn’t even register to this moron that he might be putting himself at risk by being so stupid and insulting when dealing with potentially dangerous people.
My complaints about the production are minor. Some people I spoke to after the screening weren’t particularly impressed with the way the film looked, but I found its dull sheen and monochromatic feel added a critical sense of realism. There’s a subplot about a threesome that I felt could have been pruned down a little, but at the same time, the angle taken on the threesome scenario was well thought out – it explored the fantasy aspect of what a threesome is expected to be like vs. the emotional realities and risks of a couple engaging in such an endeavor. The editing between the three different timeframes in the same room was particularly well done, but that can likely be accredited more to the crafty screenwriting than what the editor did with the footage.
So overall Rule of Three is well worth checking out. It’s compact, mean, and fires through its 85 minutes without much stalling. Just don’t expect to walk away from this one feeling better about your fellow man!
3 1/2 out of 5