If there are two things British cinema is known for it’s gritty realism and melodrama. With Little Pieces, debutant writer/ director Adam Nelson is clearly striving for the former, but the limitations the film is shackled by regularly push it into melodramatic territory.
Shot on a tight schedule with a shoe string budget, Little Pieces is a hugely ambitious effort, however it rarely manages to defy its independent roots. For many of the cast and crew this their debut feature – and it shows. Having been shot on a “micro budget”, technical issues can be forgiven – occasional lighting and sound problems, for example, are regular but none distracting – but framing and editing issues are more difficult to look past. Whilst director of photography Josh Beecher captures the mundane quite beautifully, be it landscape shots of joggers, or extreme close ups of character’s faces, simple conversations on the other hand often break the basic tenets of the cinematographer’s handbook with the “180 Degree Rule” most often being ignored, creating a disengagement between the characters.
The film takes a non-linear approach to its fairly straight forward narrative – it’s a tale of two brothers whose lives spiral into angst, depression and violence – creating small segments of melodrama and drip feeding them (and the information each scene brings) to the audience out of sequence. It’s an interesting approach, and thankfully it works reasonably well in creating a level of intrigue that otherwise would have been lacking. It’s a move that feels out of place initially, but as the pieces fall into place it becomes apparent that this structural take is comfortably the film’s strongest selling point, as weaknesses elsewhere hold it back.
Whilst leads Finnian Nainby-Luxmore (Michael) and Matt Jones (Eric) put in commendable shifts, when dealing with some of the film’s darker themes they lack the presence to really give these scenes some much needed punch. The “villain” of the piece (to use the word loosely) Peter Oliver (Jerry) fares worse, given the lion’s share of the script’s on the nose and overstuffed dialogue and performing with a little too much gusto and high drama.
There is a raw potential in several of the scenes, be it a simple yet effective moment at an ice rink, or the serene opening segment, but unfortunately these are few and far between. Little Pieces may not be the second coming of Shane Meadows, but director Adam Nelson certainly can’t be accused of a lack of ambition. Sadly, gritty realism and melodrama do not a match made in heaven make.
A flawed yet ambitious independent British drama, Little Pieces reaches high, but lacks on too many fronts to live up to its potential. It’s structurally creative but the execution on several fronts ultimately falls short.
Rating (out of 5):
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