On the Corner (June 17/04)
Unlike a lot of movies that deal with the seedier side of life, On the Corner remains compelling throughout - no small feat, given how unpleasant some of these characters and situations are. The key seems to be the inclusion of Randy (Simon Baker), a relative innocent that eventually becomes corrupted by the street. He's the sort of figure that it's easy to relate to, and the grittier aspects of the movie become easier to take thanks to his presence.
Set on the mean streets of Vancouver, On the Corner follows Randy as he shows up at his sister Angel's door. Angel (Alex Rice) is a junkie and a prostitute, though it's clear that there's still a lot of good in her. She hooks Randy up with Floyd (Gordon Tootoosis), a genial old man who makes his money returning used bottles and cans. Though Randy initially goes along with this, he soon discovers there's a lot more cash to be made dealing drugs. His supplier is a quick tempered man named Wade (Brent Stait), whose proclivity for violence is more than evident.
On the Corner marks writer/director Nathaniel Geary's feature-length debut, and there's no denying that it's awfully impressive. The filmmaker does a nice job of establishing this world without allowing its depressing nature to dominate, a trap that a lot of movies of this ilk fall into. The film's main characters - Randy, Angel, and their friend Stacey (Katharine Isabelle) - are convincingly messed up, but there's an element of humanity that comes through. A lot of credit has to go to the actors, who are surprisingly effective; aside from Ginger Snaps' Isabelle, there's not a familiar face to be found here. Rice and Baker are fantastic in their respective roles, bringing a great deal of emotion to their performances.
Even the less likable characters are intriguing due to some stellar acting, something that's particularly true in the case of Stacey's pimp, Cliffie (JR Bourne). Bourne is electrifying in the role, imbuing the character with the kind of volatility we used to expect from guys like Pacino and DeNiro. He's certainly the film's scene-stealer, which is really saying something given how strong Baker and Rice are.
Visually, the movie looks the way you might expect such a film to look - grungy and dark. Though Geary occasionally throws in an interesting camera move, he's clearly more interested in the characters and his dialogue. As a result, the film has the feel of a documentary - which is probably the highest compliment one can pay towards this kind of film. Even the ambigious and extremely downbeat ending works, though it's hard not to wish that Geary had allowed a glimmer of hope to enter the lives of his characters.