Writer / Director Daniel Grove clearly knows the rules of film noir and his debut feature follows them well. The man with a troubled past is sucked back into the seedy underbelly of society, the high stakes poker game, the femme fatale. Set in the Iranian and Russian underworld of a neon-soaked Los Angeles, The Loner seems prepped to leave its mark on the neo-noir genre. But, while the film is a well-constructed thrill ride, it can’t quite find its way out of the shadow of its classic noir influences.
Behrouz (Reza Sixo Safai, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) has come a long way. As a young boy he was a child soldier in Iran before he moved to Los Angeles and became a pawn in the Iranian mafia, before going straight as a real estate man. He has a girlfriend, Oksana (Helena Mattsson, Iron Man 2) with a troubled past, and a nasty opium addiction, but he finally sees a way to make a life for himself. Then Behrouz is wrongfully accused of stealing drugs from his former boss, and suddenly he finds himself thrown back into the criminal underworld, caught between the Russian and Iranian mobs.
There’s quite a lot in The Loner to like, even if it doesn’t always coalesce into a solid whole. Safai exudes tragic style as Behrouz, and the underworld is filled with captivating, if familiar, characters like the seductive mob wife Lola (Laura Harring, Mulholland Drive) or the flamboyant gangster Farid (Dominic Rains, Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Grove’s approach to violence manages to be both frank and stylized, the cinematography by Steven Capitano Calitri is slick and smart, and it’s all choreographed to a fantastic pulsating score by Photek.
Watching The Loner is a bit like stirring oil and water. When things are moving, it feels fluid and cohesive. When things slow down, things start to pull apart. The film’s Iranian identity feels incidental and the inclusion of the Russian mob dilutes experience and feels ill advised. Julian Sands (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) shows up briefly to do an awful Russian accent that veers into the realm of parody. None of these missteps are fatal, but they keep Grove’s debut from reaching its full potential.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
The Loner is a solid neo-noir film – nothing more, nothing less. It has a great sense of style and an awesome electronic score. But Grove sticks too close to the noir formula, and downplays the aspects of the film that would have set it apart, settling for being a genre footnote when it could have been a breakout. Still, it’s one of the sleeker films premiering at the Tribeca Film Fest and should whet the appetites for noir fans, even if it’s just to see the latest iteration of old tricks.