Dir/scr: Henry Bean. US. 2007. 91 mins .
Noise has an intriguing idea at its core: it centres on a New York resident who begins a one-man guerilla campaign against urban noise pollution. But having hooked us with the tagline, director Henry Bean never seems to be sure quite where to run with it. The film shifts uncertainly from quirky black humour and political satire to serious emotional drama and back again, ending up as a sort of anarchist, local-scale Mr Smith Goes To Washington. But despite its bumps and creases, Noise is an enjoyable enough outing for those in a mood for unchallenging quirkiness - and it helps that Tim Robbins is clearly having great fun with the lead role.
New Yorkers will certainly identify with the hero's car alarm phobia, not to mention the film's jibes at city hall bureaucracy and the stonewalling of grassroots protest movements, but with its self-consciously indie production values this title will appeal mostly to dedicated indie audiences in the US, where it is due to be released by Thinkfilm in February 2008. Elsewhere, Robbins' presence may help to win round a few sceptical distributors (and audiences), but Noise looks unlikely to travel much outside of the core Euro territories.
Robbins plays David Owen, a thirtysomething lawyer who has a nice wife (Moynahan), a nice young daughter (Brennan) and a nice brownstone house in central New York. But David is increasingly bugged by the daily aural assault of car alarms, horns, pneumatic drills, police sirens and other urban stimuli. He graduates from deflating the tyres of offending vehicles to breaking in so he can open the bonnet and cut the battery cables. Soon he is wearing a hood and leaving calling cards identifying himself as The Rectifier. Before long, David's obssession with noise lands him in court, undermines his marriage and loses him his job - at which point he realises that being a vigilante is his true metier.
In the film's uneven second half David has an affair with Ekaterina (Levieva) and, partly as a result of her encouragement, becomes the figurehead of a movement launched to ban car alarms within the city limits. But this activity pits him against the city's arrogant, preening, powdered top honcho, Mayor Schneer, played by William Hurt in a style that rivals his gangster boss in A History Of Violence for sheer hammed-up camp.
Occasionally the laid-back narrative approach throws up some telling moments, as in a couple of authentic-feeling scenes that chart the way the police's treatment of small-time offenders is designed to undermine dignity and assert control.
Shot digitally, the film is a true US indie product, with smart, ironic voiceover, interviews with characters, on-screen captions, split-screen montage sequences and a quirky, jazzy soundtrack - plus a richly textured sound design that orchestrates the urban cacophony. But however much fun these indie acrobatics are at the time, they fail in the end to paper over the film's structural weaknesses and tonal imbalance.
Seven Arts Pictures (US)
Fuller Films (US)
Paul De Souza