Monday, May 4, 2015


Man From Reno.

Director: Dave Boyle.
Writers: Dave Boyle, Joel Clark, Michael Lerman.
Actors: Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna, Kazuki Kitamura, Elisha Skorman and Hiroshi Watanabe.

Note: This review originally ran at Central Track.

There's nothing quite like a good mystery.
Really. Watching a detective or expert private investigator going through the motions of research and interrogations to solve a crime -- only to uncover a larger conspiracy in the process? It doesn't get much better than that. I mean, there's a reason why everyone and their mom read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. And there's a reason, too, why noir remains one of the most revered genres in all of cinema.
Which brings us to director Dave Boyle's Man from Reno, the latest entry into the canon. A modern mystery with a very old-school vibe, the movie's part character drama, part mystery thriller and just all-around engrossing. It's a beautifully written and expertly acted film with a diverse cast and plenty of repeated viewing appeal.
The movie's strength lies in its sharp writing and in its lead actress, Ayako Fujitani. Here, Fujitani plays Aki Akahori, a popular Japanese mystery book author who's holed up in a San Francisco hotel, seeking shelter from her increased celebrity during a press tour in support of her latest mystery novel -- the first of her books to be translated into English. But after a one-night stand with a charismatic man -- Akira from Reno -- she becomes intertwined in a real-life mystery all her own.
Fujitani is amazing in this role. She completely immerses herself in it, developing a complex character who's gone through some pain in her life and doesn't quite know how to handle it all. Her Aki is the type of character who says a lot while not really saying anything. And despite all of her anguish, she's just so clever and observant, too: You can see how she was able to write mystery novels for a living.
It helps that the film is written so sharply, too. In addition to Aki's own struggles, the whodunit wrapped within her story similarly compels. On that front, we meet Sheriff Paul De Moral (Pepe Serna) at the film's start, jst as he accidentally hits a man running away from something in a deserted foggy road.
The movie sets up De Moral and Aki as parallels throughout the majority of its run as they both try to unravel their respective mysteries; De Moral has to find out the identity of the man he runs over, and Aki has to figure out the true identity Akira, who left a shady briefcase in her hotel room.
The way that the conspiracy unravels is just superbly paced. And whereas other movies hold off explaining the mystery until the closing minutes of the film, Man From Reno's larger mystery is wrapped up well in advance, which should help audience's more greatly appreciate the complexity of the plot without becoming overwhelmed by it.
There's something to be said about the diverse casting of the film, too. It's quite refreshing to see a film starring a Japanese woman speaking in her native tongue and an older Latino man in a genre so usually dominated by grizzled white dudes with drinking problems. The San Francisco setting helps, too, highlighting a Japanese side of the city that's so rarely shown this deeply on film.
In turn, Man from Reno comes off as more than just another genre film entry. It's a superbly acted film that spins a truly compelling web.

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