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Benjamin Busch’s Sympathetic Details showed here at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival as the “short” film of a double-header bill with a feature length work. It is tough to call this film a short because its 57 minute runtime puts it on the cusp of being more. I don’t think anyone would ever release a movie under an hour, however, so I guess it becomes a short by default. As is, I think Busch did the right thing in not trying to expand on it to increase the length. Anything more would have been noticeably filler and have screwed up the pacing, which already is a bit odd in the middle. Maybe because it screened from a DVD, but it looked and felt like a true indie, done on the cheap with some friends, yet still reached a higher level of professionalism than would be normally expected from something like that.

With all his co-stars from the HBO drama “The Wire” in action, we are treated to a darker rendition of similar themes as those in this year’s black comedy In Bruges. The story concerns a hitman who has grown a conscience and started asking about his target’s survival statistics, the family he will be leaving behind, or as his boss calls it, unnecessary sympathetic details. In this line of work, asking moral questions and then walking away is practically a suicide note as is relayed during the course of the movie. If you are too soft to do the job, you may be too soft to allow others to continue it as well. Any risk of an ex-assassin going informer must be dealt with.

Our evolved killer is played by actor Ryan Sands with mixed results. At times he is perfect, but in others he plays it a bit stiff and unnatural. Maybe this was intentional as he was going out of his cold-blooded mentality, but he seemed completely devoid of emotion, a trait that appeared in the script to be what he was discovering. He should have been affected by what happened around him and not just started asking questions while doing his job business as usual. The stoic façade does work perfectly for the final act, though, as he uses his skills to try and save his own life.

As for the rest of the cast, we are treated with some solid turns. Clarke Peters is pitch-perfect as the big boss without morals, doing his job because it must be done. His handling of an assistant, at the start, and his conversation with Sands, at the end, are two great scenes. John Doman is effective as Sands’ handler, showing the evolution of feeling that his employee and friend should have had as well. Mixed on whether to do his job as he knows it should be done, (these are bad men with reasons to die, one shouldn’t forget that fact just because they have a family at home), or to protect his colleague because he knows what his future may hold adds a nice layer to the story. There are also nice showings from Marisol Chacin, (a crucial cog to the system that one may overlook), Domenick Lombardozzi, (setting the tone of the film), and Seth Gilliam, (the true nature of how a criminal lives dual lives of deceit and love depending on who he is dealing with).

Busch has crafted something here with a lot of potential. There are flaws for sure, but the base is solid. Starting out with a bang—showing an incident and fringe characters, playing with the audience’s notion of investing in people because they are onscreen for a long time without knowing how the story will progress, that really just sets up our introduction to the lead role hidden from view—and concluding with a stellar final act that brings everything full circle, the film is bookmarked perfectly. The middle is the weak link, trying to set up relationships without really needing to. You forget any lulls once the end comes as it all falls into place and everyone’s allegiances are brought to the surface. I give a lot of credit to Busch for ending it as it needed to be. Not quite completely bleak, but definitely not cheery, Sympathetic Details concludes on a note of closure for all involved, bringing each arc to its inevitable finale.

Sympathetic Details 8/10

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