The plot of The Fixer is pure neo pulp. An Afghan translator moves to a small town in northern California and takes a job writing the paper’s police blotter, exposing him to the town’s seedy underbelly. Unfortunately, while the film’s ideas are plentiful, it runs short on plot and never really delivers on the promise if its premise.
Dominic Rains (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) stars as Osman, a war journalist whose been granted asylum in the United States. In Afghanistan, Osman was a Fixer, a local who would help foreign journalists navigate the cultural landscape. In America, he’s adrift. He lives on the couch of a journalist friend’s mother, Gloria (Melissa Leo, The Fighter) a local cop. After taking a job writing the police blotter, he begins to investigate the town’s subcultures, from the local lowlifes like Lindsay, a troubled hot tub builder played by James Franco (127 Hours), to Sandra (Rachel Brosnahan, House of Cards) an alluring member of a pseudo-hippy group.
Director Ian Olds comes from the world of documentary, having actually made a film about a real life fixer in 2009, and The Fixer represents his first foray into narrative film direction. It’s also his first original screenplay, which shows. The film feels pulled in too many directions, and while it touches on a number of the communities thriving in the California hills, we never get to really know any of them. Some of this detachment may be in thematic service to Osman’s isolation, but the film suffers for it.
If there is a narrative thread that ties the film together, it’s Lindsay’s disappearance following a deadly run-in with a rural crime family. The disappearance feels less like an inciting incident than it does a weak excuse to has Osman snoop around. I only wish the snooping lead to more satisfying places. Olds has some interesting things to say about cultural divisions and expectations, but the film never ties them down to impactful events, leaving the film feeling ponderous instead of profound. Olds does get a strong performance out of his leading man; Rains is charming, if a bit distractingly naïve, as Osman. It’s a shame he doesn’t have more to do.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
The Fixer has a solid premise that it refuses to deliver on. Taking a man whose entire job was to provide cultural context and dropping him in a place where he has none should be fascinating, but it isn’t. The film eschews any real narrative progression, leaving it afloat in its own intellectual musings. The performances are mostly strong but we see them all through a frosted glass of detachment. There’s nothing overtly bad about The Fixer, but it’s hard not to leave the theatre thinking about the film you wished you had seen instead of the one you did.