Dir. Ryan Eslinger, USA, English, 90 minutes, colour.
When a Man Falls In The Forest stars Sharon Stone and Timothy Hutton as middle-aged victims of monotony in their marriage and their work. Yet the real victim of monotony in Ryan Eslinger's second feature is the audience. The dull drama, developed at Sundance Institute labs, will face a challenge differentiating itself in the marketplace from other comparably drab Sundance 2007 fare that will be released throughout the year. Stone and Hutton on the marquee will help, especially in foreign territories where Stone's star power can fuel box office.
The title presupposes the insignificance of any individual life - when a man falls in the forest, does anyone hear him fall' As Karen and Gary, Stone and Hutton lead anonymous unhappy lives together that give a grim answer to the question.
Into Gary's life flow two story strands. Former classmate Bill (Dylan Baker) is now a fussy, phobic opera-listening night janitor at Gary's office whose dreams, dramatised in the film, probe deep into his obsessions. Store manager Travis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is another classmate, guilt-ridden from an accident years before, who reaches out to Gary for friendship that Gary can't give.
The film conforms to a certain kind of style associated with Sundance features - anytown USA locations, numbingly plain interiors, robotic acting that stresses emotional disconnection, and a droning soundtrack.
Eslinger's script is punctuated with silences that seem intended to make the audience reflect on the tragedies that it is observing and the futility of the characters' lives. As a director, Eslinger seems to have let Stone and Hutton follow their own instincts on how these characters deal with their demons.
For no apparent reason, Hutton wears a baseball hat for most of the film, even in his corporate office. Perhaps the cap is the symbolic lid that he clamps down on his emotions, since he takes it off when he pours out his feelings.
As his troubled wife, Karen, Stone is the best thing in this movie, quivering with inner pain and fed up with her husband's quirks and neuroses. She acts subtly in telling close-ups, and looks great, especially when she's shoplifting for the thrill of it.
The audience may have trouble sharing Karen's anguished fears that she's losing her beauty, even though Stone labours to drive the point home by constantly pursing her lips and wrinkling her brow.
Dylan Baker as Bill varies the tone of When A Man Falls In A Forest as a loner persecuted by his high-school classmates who experiences excitement and heroism only in his dreams.
He wears thick glasses and a janitor's suit that looks as if it came from a sci-fi prop room. His reveries provide some relief from the other characters' pain, but not enough to save this movie.
Proud Mary Entertainment
Insight Film and Video Productions
John F. S. Laing
R. Scott Reid
Alain de la Mata
Samuel H. Frankel
Director of Photography
Paul Michael Thomas
Pruitt Taylor Vince