When I opened my Netflix delivery this week I was happy to see that Turn the River was finally out. I had seen the previews and was excited to see what appeared to be an intelligent film featuring a fair amount of pool, even if its not a "pool movie."
I enjoyed the film, although probably more for the decent character development and good acting by Famke Janssen and the actor playing her son. Major props for featuring one-pocket, although eventually the film ends with a 9-ball match, the change is introduced by the main character saying that 9-ball "seems like a chumpy game for us."
First let me say, I think it takes some courage to even attempt to put any kind of pool narrative in a film, especially on a low budget. The editor must have gone nuts trying to piece together legitimate sequences or even montages.
But any pool player is going to go into a movie like this trying to see who can really play and who is just an actor (actually recognizing Tony Robles doesn't count)...and the couple of editing mistakes can't help but jump out at you (like during the 9-ball sequence, it looks like she shoots straight in at the four and the cue ball cozies up to the 2.)
Famke Janssen did all of her own shots in the movie. Apparently, she is a good shot, but I never bought her as a real player. Her stroke was unconvincing and she never seemed confident at the table. Even considering she is down on her luck and living out of a truck she won at poker, she struck me as the kind of woman who could have a good night holding the table at a local bar, but not the kind of player who should be playing races to 5 for $10,000.
And then there was this exchange with her mentor after upping the bet to $10,000:
Mentor (Rip Torn): "You know he's going to try and f*ck with you?"
Famke: "F*ck with me? How?"
Are you serious? This woman is supposed to be a pool hustler and she's never been sharked before? Or, gosh any reasonable non-pool playing human being might be unsurprised by the suggestion that someone placing 10K on a pool match might try to play some mind games. Maybe she should play more league pool.
I could go on, but it would be unfair, because the director has stated that he didn't want the movie to be about the pool, and that he made a conscious decision to have as little pool as possible. He just wanted the audience to know who was winning and who was losing.
Which is too bad. I think letting the pool games carry a little more of the narrative weight would have added some needed tension and texture missing during the match sequences. (Is it too much to ask for a few full table shots during the one-pocket to give people a better feeling of the game? Maybe on a low-budget it is too much...)
Perhaps this could have avoided the need for the bizarre, oddly comic, thriller ending. Although, I guess the story needed some kind of conclusion...
Anyway, out of the hour and a half, I'd really only like the last 10 minutes of my life back. That's pretty good. Good acting & and dissing 9-ball. I'm glad I saw it.