As some of you already know, I have a strange curiosity bordering on obsession with Channing Tatum. Though I’ve already come to terms with being the only straight man watching Magic Mike this June, I haven’t been able to provide a lot of examples as to why I continue watching Tatum’s usually bad movies. Yes, there have been exceptions. 21 Jump Street was fantastic, and G.I. Joe was OK. The one movie I always end up going back to, though, is A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.
Featuring a young Shia LeBeouf and a pre-A-list Robert Downey Jr., A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is the one movie that proves Tatum can actually act. There’s no doubt he’s a movie star, but his portrayal of the volatile, violent Antonio on the streets of Astoria, New York featured the raw power needed to carry a picture, even in a supporting role. It’s a great, gritty, indie all around, but it may be the reason for my Tatum interest.
You can imagine, then, my excitement when I learned Tatum would be reteaming with his A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints director Dito Montiel for another New York-based drama. The Son of No One, also featured a terrific supporting cast, including Ray Liotta, Juliette Binoche, and Al Pacino. Outside those Oscar-caliber actors, we also get to see Katie Holmes in one of her few film roles and Tracy Morgan in one of his only dramatic turns. All of these interesting casting choices combined with the novelist-turned-screenwriter-turned-director’s third feature film (I have yet to catch his second movie with Channing, the 2009 drama Fighting) made The Son of No One one of my most anticipated films of last year.
Then it’s limited November release came and went without much expansion and without the stellar reviews that met A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. It was an awards season dud, and even with that cast, it only made it to ten theaters. I’m sure there’s some sort of distribution issue I’m unaware of that hampered the film from spreading, but I never had the chance to see it on the big screen. Sadly, it was for the best.
The Son of No One is not without its merits. Montiel again proves he knows how to structure his films, shoot his scenes, and command every moment. His film is never boring. It’s just let down by a makeshift, anti-climactic finalé I can’t imagine was anyone’s first choice. I wouldn’t exactly argue the film was working towards something significant, but it could have earned a passable ‘5’ or ‘6’ rating with a courageous conclusion. Instead, it’s half a cop’s story with a few nuggets of entertainment. However, the ending isn’t the film’s most frustrating aspect.
Tatum never commits to his role. Jonathan, a kid from the projects who saw and did things he shouldn’t have, has a lot going on in his life. He’s married with a sick kid. He’s just transferred from a cushy suburban post onto NYC’s toughest streets. On top of those everyday issues, someone knows about his less than legitimate past and wants everyone else to find out. Notes are carved on his locker. Letters are sent to the press. To put it gently, he’s stressed, and with good reason.
Jonathan is also clearly the kind of man who keeps all his troubles bottled up in his mind. That doesn’t mean Channing has to portray him sans expression. A few scenes showcase the character’s emotional density, but Tatum does little to elevate these choice, brief moments. I continuously wanted him to give me more. Every minute. Every scene. More expression. More output. Just more of anything would have helped. Instead, Tatum treats what could be powerful material as if it’s another cookie-cutter rom-com he can walk through.
No one else helps him out, either. Al Pacino continues his late career cold streak while Juliette Binoche fails to humanize her crusading journalist. Ray Liotta is fine, but he plays this kind of hard-ass cop role all the time. Tracy Morgan might be the best of the bunch. I thought it would be impossible to see him as anyone other than 30 Rock’s brash, boyish Tracy Jordan, but he managed to make me forget all about Liz Lemon’s comedy star in only a couple of quick scenes. It’s far from transformative, but I’ll give the man credit for being the only cast member to go all in.
The DVD and Blu-ray’s special features are the same: deleted scenes and feature commentary from Dito Montiel and executive producer/editor Jake Pushinsky. Though that’s not much, comparatively, and neither are worthwhile. The deleted scenes aren’t even really deleted scenes – they’re extended scenes, and there’s only two of them. Early on in the commentary, Montiel says he hopes their conversation isn’t as boring as it sounds to him. It is, and it’s sparse. Fans of Montiel may find tidbits here and there to latch onto, but that’s it.
Montiel’s next movie won’t have Tatum in it (or he’s not been cast in it yet), so maybe I’ll be able to pass it up. Here’s hoping a review or two harkens me back to my A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints calling, though.