The Power of Few follows Fueisha (Tione Johnson) as she walks through the streets of a very rough New Orleans neighborhood. Just 12 years old, Fueisha is especially observant of the neighborhood denizens, and Leone Marucci’s film tells their stories in a nonlinear anthology. This professional looking, independently produced film uses its fractured storyline to repay the careful viewer, as each of its overlapping tales is told from a different perspective and each plot is linked to the overall storyline.
The film—platforming across the US—takes its time in this telling, gradually revealing various links and different actions’ ramifications. Much of this unfolding is smart, but it can be slow and confusing, losing and then regaining its grip on the complicated plot. This includes references to the stolen Shroud of Turin even as it follows the adventures of a couple of terrorist-hunting FBI agents (Christian Slater and Nicky Whelan), a couple of philosophical vagrants (Christopher Walken and Jordan Prentice), a couple of drive-by shooters (Anthony Anderson and Juvenile), and a kid (Devon Gearhart) who steals medicine to treat his ailing baby brother.
Sometimes, these connections between disparate pieces are surprising. It can be exhilarating to watch a couple of characters walking through the stories of others and even providing hints to enhance someone else’s storyline. In this, The Power of Few presents viewers with a pleasurable challenge of detection. Less happily, the individual stories are less than persuasive. Each sequence relies on convenience (a couple played by Jesse Bradford and Q’orianka Kilcher falls in love at first sight) and contrivance (an unlikely gun theft arms someone who just happens to need it) in order to manipulate individuals into each other’s stories at precise but also awkward points. If the pieces fit together, the pieces themselves are imperfect and the reasons they fit don’t always make sense. When The Power of Few lapses into possible science fiction and the supernatural elements, we might appreciate the experimenting but lament the inelegance, up to and including an awfully close to literal deus ex machina.
Indeed, The Power of Few‘s production itself was reportedly something of an experiment. From the start of pre-production in 2006, Marucci and Kilcher (who also produced) engaged the potential audience in the filmmaking process. Visitors to an early official website were involved in the production of the film, from casting to editing, as recounted in this explanation of the ‘interactive film’.
The result of this potentially innovative process is uneven and far from seamless, but the film features some beautiful compositions, whether a spectacular car crash at the intersection of two stories or earnest, revelatory dialogue between Walken and Prentice. A slowly spinning quarter on the street at pavement level manages to extend the tension of a surprising scene of violence. A camera attached to an actor, focused on his face, conveys his desperation. Wide shots and close-ups are equally clear and detailed.
The Power of Few still feels very “independent” and, more importantly, original. Even if its cast is filled with well-known actors, the film embraces risky, unconventional storytelling. In this it recalls early Quentin Tarantino works like Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, which also offer nonlinear stories, or 21 Grams and Rashomon, which feature fragmented stories told from different perspectives. Unlike these precursors, The Power of Few‘s innovation is outweighed by its flaws, its mostly unfunny comic relief, improbable plot turns, and well-meaning but heavy-handed philosophical discussions.
But still, the film raises questions about how and why we see so many films that are not experimental, that tell the same stories or follow familiar structures. We might hope that the world of crowd-sourcing may provide for more experimental possibilities, but those films still need to be marketed. If this film’s early support might provide a built-in initial audience, we might imagine still more innovation applied to making the product more widely visible. The Power of Few, as its title suggests, affirms a faith in transformation initiated from outside the usual framework. This makes for a viewing experience that is sometimes thrilling and other times perplexing. It is never, however, what you’ve seen before.