Monday, July 10, 2017
Pat Healy must love the idea of taking punishment. In Cheap Thrills (2013) he was subjected to all sorts of sickening violence, and in Take Me, (now on Netflix), which he directed, we watch him get stabbed, punched, locked in the trunk of a car, shot in the stomach with a pellet gun, and hit in the head with enough blunt instruments to fill your grandad's toolbox. At one point he's talking to some cops while a shard of glass sticks out of his back, blood leaking out of him and pooling under his feet. It's an odd scene, and we half expect him to collapse from blood loss. What makes Healy so interesting as an object for pummeling is that he seems to feel everything. Granted, as a young actor he earned his bones at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, an institution known for rough and tumble productions, but few actors can match Healy's realness when it comes to projecting pain. Fewer still seem to specialize in roles where they become human piñatas. I like Healy's movies because I like to wince along with him.
In Take Me he plays Ray Moody, a down on his luck entrepreneur whose company, Kidnapping Solutions, is struggling. Clients hire Ray to create abduction scenarios - we see him early on grabbing a chubby guy who keeps straying from his diet, holding him hostage and teaching him a lesson by shoving burgers into his mouth - and though some would scoff at the usefulness of such an enterprise, Ray genuinely thinks he's helping people. Unfortunately, he's not making enough money. He also suffers the wrath of a ball-busting sister who can't stand the route his life has taken. When a mysterious woman hires Ray for a complex scenario that will involve a lot of slapping (her request), he thinks his ship has come in. When he finally nabs the woman (Taylor Schilling), she turns out to be a nightmare. Not only does she have the survival instinct of Chuck Norris, but we're not even sure if Ray has the right person.
The screenplay by Mike Morowski has the grim humor and twists of an old Donald Westlake novel, and Nathan Miller's cinematography is sharp. I also liked the score by Heather McIntosh, who incorporates a lot of ricky-tick piano to give an ironical touch to the violence and danger. Healy's a solid director - he was behind the camera for a couple of smaller projects in the past, but this is his first feature film - and though he and Schilling do most of the heavy lifting, he gets a lot out of the movie's minor characters. (By the way, TV buffs with good eyes will notice actors from Seinfeld, The Office, and Parks and Recreation here. Send me a 3X5 card with the names of the performers and the characters they played on those shows. If you answer correctly, I'll be your huckleberry.)
Schilling is top billed, but it's Healy's movie from the get go. In fact, his best acting comes early when he's applying for a loan to help his failing business. Almost unrecognizable in a cheap brown wig, he unloads on a bank employee a line of salesman bluster that is as once smarmy and endearing. Maybe Healy has a future in a revival of Glengarry Glenn Ross. I loved this scene because it gives us a break before the mayhem, and allows us to see Ray Moody as nothing less than an all-American dreamer, someone who wants to help people, someone who thinks he's doing some good, someone who believes his own pitch. Seriously, Kevin Spacey or James Woods at their most unctuous couldn't have improved on what Healy does in the opening scene. At the end, when Ray is a gruesome mess, he spots an old client who appears to have benefited from Ray's work. Their eyes meet; Ray smiles meekly. It reminded me of Charlie Chaplin smiling at the blind girl at the end of City Lights, or Woody Allen smiling at the close of Manhattan. It's the look of someone who knows the world is hard but still dares to hope. Healy may take a beating in his movies, but in this one he's smiling through the blood.
For another great Pat Healy movie, read about Cheap Thrills: http://donstradley.blogspot.com/2014/02/cheap-thrills.html