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February 2, 2011

Movie Review: Let Me Die Quietly

"Neo-noir." It sounds so scholarly, and, dare I say
it,pretentious. Distributors use the term a lot lately to categorize any dark thriller. Normally they are paced too quickly, with the focus more on action than atmosphere to truly deserve the name "noir." The great films which first earned that label from theFrench critics were all about the atmosphere. A dark mood echoed by the dark characters that peopled them. And you can't build a mood if you are in a hurry. LET ME DIE QUIETLY is the latest to try to vie for the moniker, and, for a change, it does a pretty respectable job of it. If anything, the pace is a little too leisurely, but better that than another poser action movie in disguise.

Buy Let Me Die Quietly on DVD

The plot hinges on Mario (Charles Castillo), a tortured soul who frequents bath houses in search of quick sex and
fleeting human connections. He is an alcoholic who knows it, and is afraid of becoming consumed by his own obsessions. It is this self-awareness which keeps him from tottering over the edge into his own abyss. Yet for all this, he is not a bitter man. He has a respect for his fellow creatures in all their permutations. This empathy is wrapped up in the psychic visions which have been with him his entire life. He sees the last moments of people's lives. Especially those who are murdered.

Mario goes to confession regularly, and he is in therapy with a psychiatrist (Ian Tomaschick) who thinks he is suicidal. When he begins to sense the presence of a predatory serial killer haunting the city's gay clubs and bathhouses, he goes to the police and tells Detective Devlin (Paul Coughlan) all that he has seen. In doing so, he reveals elements about the crime that only the police could know about. Mario then becomes Devlin's chief suspect.

But then Mario meets Gabrielle (Dana Perry), an exotic beauty who shares his psychic visions. It is here that the plot begins to twist and turn; leaving the serial killer angle as merely a tricky red-herring subplot.

What follows has all the trappings of a good noir: a tortured leading man, a beautiful and exotic femme-fatale, a meddling police detective, and double crosses on top of double crosses. And more than that, it has real surprises, and a pervasive atmosphere of dread; all leading to an inevitable, almost pre-destined conclusion of the darkest hue.

One of the most refreshing elements of the film is how it deals with and blends sexual identities. Having its lead as not only gay man, but a promiscuous gay man, is surprising enough. But when he becomes involved with a beautiful woman (without once denying or questioning his identity as a gay man), well, I sure didn't see that coming. The even handed way in which this film accepts all versions of the human condition without judgement very much echoes Mario's empathetic nature.

As a movie, it is well shot and well acted. It has a shadowy look ,and the murder visions are handled well. The violence is quick, realistic, and never dwelled on more than story and mood dictates. Director Mitchell Reichler doesn't draw attention to his camera, and he trusts his ablecast to tell the story.

This is a film which lives and dies by the performance of its central character. It could easily have crumbled into indulgence, especially given the fact that it was written by star Charles Castillo as a vehicle for himself. However, Castillo is up to the challenge, both on the page and in front of the camera. There is a pervasive sadness in his portrayal of Mario that runs deep, and likewise a kindness; an evenness of temper that makes him easy to like.

LET ME DIE QUIETLY falls far short of brilliance. It is too slow at times, and could do with more economical dialogue. But it weaves a melancholic web, and finds human redemption where other films would find only defeat. I came into it expecting the worst, and found myself being seduced by its modest intentions.

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