A Glaring Emission **
Upon hearing the title – or even seeing the DVD cover – for A Glaring Emission it is easy to come to the impression that the film is some sort of satire dealing with issues relating to climate change. After all, the simple changing of one letter has transformed the entire meaning of the title and the cover art definitely creates a certain idea of what to expect from the film. This, however, is all a deception on the part of the filmmakers – or whoever is responsible for marketing the film. In the words of director Aaron Scott Moorhead, “the film is vaguely about global warming, but not really.
Also, in the vein of Thank You For Smoking [a film which this is not in the same league as], we broke the fourth wall and dealt with the dark side of economy, but again, the film isn’t about that. It’s really a caper film about two clever people who are also incorrigibly stupid.” Moorhead, who since making this film as gone on to work as a cinematographer in Los Angeles with multiple projects completed and in place since completing this film and who apparently modelled the central character of this film on a real life friend with the same name, originally started developing this film as a short – something which perhaps it should have stayed as, read on to find out why – after taking a class on global climate change where he learned about the carbon credit market which he found absurd. With the production being “more than a little low-budget” and also being a ticking clock as Moorhead was about to enter film school, the process of making the film was apparently quite a troubled one but, nonetheless, Moorhead says of the final product: “I’m very proud of it and all it represents.” There is some real talent on display in this film but there is also at least one glaring omission – read on to find out what it is.
Brian Torro (Sean Dennison) is a businessman, a self proclaimed genius and an admitted liar. Having set up a fake corporation in England he has become a multi-millionaire by taking advantage of environmental laws put into effect by the 1997 Kyoto Accords. England limits the amount of carbon dioxide that companies can put out and so large companies that must overproduce can purchase carbon dioxide quotas from companies that under-produce and it is exactly these underproduction quotas that Torro’s company sells, despite the fact that his company produces absolutely no product whatsoever. It’s the ultimate con and Torro makes 100% profit with virtually no cost, which is exactly what he needs to finance his expensive tastes and his equally expensive girlfriend Cally (Caitlin Musgrove).
He lives as richly as possible through his lies but things begin to go very wrong when one of his clients, the plump Oswald Plimpton (Joe Reed), discovers what he is up to and tries to blackmail him to the sum of $50 million. With no way of paying that kind of money, Torro attempts to find some dirt on Plimpton so he can blackmail him in return, enlisting the aid of assistant Eugene Dillipeck (Mark Petersen) and reuniting with his estranged mentor, seasoned con artist Demetreous Flagg (Simon Needham). With time running out, Torro soon finds himself becoming entangled in his own web of lies as he desperately tries to save his own ass.
In this time of economic recession, savage cuts in public spending and the average person being screwed over by greedy, spineless and downright evil rick folk, it is very easy to blame major corporations for all the wrongs that are being inflicted on us and, judging by A Glaring Emission, rather fun too. This is how I thought of starting my write-up for this film upon reading the description on the DVD cover. After all, the tagline, “a corporate climate-changing cap-and-trade comedy”, certainly seems to suggest that this might be a film with much to say about the major issues that are corporate greed and climate change and that the style of the film might be very satirical in its nature.
The film starts off in fine fashion. Revolving around a company that makes huge sums of money despite not really doing or producing anything of value – wait, that’s sound very familiar doesn’t it; oh that’s right it’s called a bank – the film may not explicitly say anything about corporate greed in the real world or the role of big corporations in the current economic climate but anyone with a trained eye should be able to pick up on some subtexts that appear to be present here – the corporation in the film may be fake but its goals and the way it operates certainly share parallels with those of a real corporation. Dealing with two of the biggest issues affecting the world today – despite not actually being about either – the film seems poised to go to some very interesting places and deal with some very topical issues. The writing is pretty sharp, the way Torro speaks to the camera, something which often seems clichéd and lazy on the part of the writer, works very well here, things seem quite funny and the visuals are stunning, in particular a scene where Torro explains what the Kyoto Protocol is and how he is exploiting it, using donuts and chocolate candies as visual aids.
This scene features some excellent but subtle blink and you’ll miss them visual effects that really are impressive. Watch very closely so as not to miss them. The editing, done by producer Lazaro Trejo along with director Aaron Scott Moorhead, is also absolutely superb, showing off some of the smoothest editing I have seen in a long while, the scene effortlessly sliding from one location to the next in completely seamless fashion and, were this film under consideration for an Oscar for Editing, I genuinely think it might have a chance at being nominated, if not winning. All of the above applies to the first ten minutes of the film and were it a short that ended at this point I may well be awarding it a five star rating but, alas, I am not, as this excellent start makes way for a considerably less impressive overall film, much of the duration being a misguided and aimless mess.
The film seems to be at its best when embracing its corporate greed and global warming themes but all subtexts evaporate after the opening ten minutes have passed, in its place entering a sort of caper as Torro tries to save his own ass but, unfortunately, not a very funny one. With a mostly tedious screenplay, written by Moorhead along with co-writer Andrew Preston, and a lack of a strong storyline as well as characters that are overdrawn without being very funny or interesting, the overall film proves to be nowhere near as smart or funny as it clearly thinks it is and even the way Torro speaks to the camera grows tiresome after a while, the film actually feeling like a drag at only 87 minutes in length. The biggest culprit of this stems from a glaring omission – the humour.
Beyond the first ten minutes there is little to make you laugh, only the occasional line delivery raising a giggle or two and the film being completely devoid of jokes, witty banter – the dialogue for the most part is rather poor – or sharp satire. The film’s independent, low budget – a mere $24,000 (although, considering that last year’s Monsters was done for only $15,000, it is hard not to think that so much more could have been done here) – origins betray it at times and it is hard to overlook the low production values and the general feel that this film is more like a student production than a professionally put together film – writer, director and producer Moorhead made it when he was only 19 years old so perhaps this shouldn’t be altogether surprising. That said, however, the original music score by Seth Woodard, featuring a blend of a light and comic and serious and suspenseful tones, proves perfectly complementary to the visuals and the impressive editing largely continues after the opening ten minutes while the cinematography, despite clearly having been done on rather basic equipment, is generally very good, the visuals boasting crisp, clear clarity and being vibrant and colourful. Unfortunately, all that this does is apply an aesthetically pleasing veneer to an ultimately hollow shell of a film.
One of the film’s biggest undoings is its representation of Britain and British people, the filmmakers failing back on old American stereotypes of what Britain is actually like, the ‘British’ characters speaking with dodgy fake accents, often having crooked teeth – things that are both evident in the characters of Eugene Dillipeck and Dan Beniele (played by Benjamin Daniele), the latter being a ‘British’ news reporter who features in some very irritating TV news reports that permeate the film at several points – and having names that I’m not really sure any British people actually have. With Tampa in Florida masquerading as London and doing a very bad job of it – outside of the time that Hawaii was used to double as London in Lost I can’t think of a less convincing depiction of England’s capital city – and only one of the ‘British’ characters actually being portrayed by a British actor – that actor being Simon Needham, portraying Demetreous Flagg, whose name isn’t even spelled correctly – this film may well prove almost offensive to British viewers.
It really is obvious that the filmmakers don’t actually know much about Britain and did not have the British moviegoing audience in mind when they made the film. Aside from Needham, who is easy to buy as being British – obviously, he actually is – and who proves pretty amusing as Demetreous, the ‘British’ cast members are quite awful. Clearly having no conception of what it really means to be British, none of them prove even remotely convincing and personally I found them all to be plain irritating. A global warning – American viewers likely won’t notice but to anyone British considering seeing this film its presentation of Britain and British people isn’t merely irritating but borderline demeaning. The rest of the cast do at least perform quite ably, even with the weak writing. As Torro, Sean Dennison has all suaveness and charisma of a real corporate executive, being a real smooth operator and fluid talker who it is easy to believe could pull off everything his character has in the film.
Simply put he is largely quite excellent, his performance being truly vibrant and charismatic and, as he seemingly channels Joseph Gordon Levitt, perfectly sarcastic too as his character lies through his teeth. Needham, meanwhile, is as every bit as suave as Dennison but far more cunning with a touch of bitterness. And, playing a complete idiot who, as Torro says, is like “a lovely house but no one’s at home”, Caitlin Musgrove is perfectly cast as Cally. There is definite promise among these cast members but the material they have to work with here doesn’t even begin to tap into it.
All in all, A Glaring Emission is a film that has its moments but for the most part isn’t very funny. More of the quality seen in the first ten minutes would have made for an overall better production but, as it is, it isn’t all bad but it is a long way from being good either. Regardless of the many many flaws, there is some true talent on display here but everyone clearly has a long way to go before they can achieve anything that can truly be called good. Torro says “B.S. is our business”. Perhaps, given that the film completely fails to do anything of the things that it seemed to promise to, the filmmakers should be saying the same thing.
If you want to know more about A Glaring Emission you can check out the official website at this address: http://aglaringemission.com/
You can also check out the official MySpace page here: http://www.myspace.com/aglaringemission
And the trailer can be viewed here: http://vimeo.com/8915355
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)