'Jesse Stone: No Remorse', No Nuance No Subtlety

Jesse Stone: No Remorse is a meandering collection of uncomfortable encounters that have no real bearing on the larger story.

Jesse Stone: No Remorse

Director: Robert Harmon
Cast: Tom Selleck, William Sadler, William Devane, Kathy Baker, Saul Rubinek, Stephen McHattie
Distributor: Sony
Rated: NR
DVD Release Date: 2010-07-27

Despite a being on the complete opposite end of the political spectrum from him, I’ve always had a strong affinity for Tom Selleck. Magnum P.I. is still one of my favorite shows of all time, and aside from some short shorts and dated hairstyles, it holds up remarkably well even today. Hell, I even watched his stink on Friends.

Lately Magnum’s most regular gig has been in a series of TV movies produced by CBS, based on the Jesse Stone novels by Robert B. Parker, who also wrote the novels that Spenser for Hire was based on. There are nine Jesse Stone novels, seven made for TV movies, three that are not based on a novel, and three that Selleck wrote the screenplay for (though these last two are not mutually exclusive).

Jesse Stone: No Remorse is the most recently aired installment in this ongoing franchise (a new chapter was filmed this past winter, though no air date has been determined). Selleck reprises his role as Jesse Stone, a hard-drinking, small-town sheriff in Paradise, Massachusetts. In the midst of a suspension that occurred in the previous film, Stone has gone into a self-imposed exile where all he does is drink scotch and wear ugg boots.

I’m not kidding about the ugg boots. He’s in a bad place. His ex-wife keeps calling, pretending that they are friends, his deputies aren’t allowed to talk to him, and he feels impotent, unable to help investigate a string of violent convenience store robberies.

A serial killer in nearby Boston provides some distraction when Commander Healy (Stephen McHattie) hires him as temporary consultant, but in reality the diversion only whets Stone’s appetite for crime solving.

There are two parallel story lines, the convenience store robberies in Paradise, and the series of murders in Boston. Even with this storm of action going on around Stone, there's little narrative thrust to the story. Neither plotline is explored in any meaningful way, and there is little depth to either. There is no sense of urgency at all, and for a movie that postures as a tense, psychological thriller, it does not live up to the expectations the filmmakers create.

Too much time is spent on minor, background characters that appeared in previous episodes. In a novel there is ample room to devote to lesser players that don’t have any impact on the larger narrative, but in an 87-minute movie you can’t squander that much time. There isn’t enough space for there to be a weird little subplot with everyone in town, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try.

Beyond that, every character has to be needlessly quirky. There is gay mob boss Gino Fish (William Sadler), ex-con/used car salesman Hasty Hathaway (Saul Rubinek) who wears a light-up bowtie, and Hasty’s ex-wife who wants to bang Stone. There is a deputy named Suitcase, yes, Suitcase, a college drop out convenience store clerk that Stone is unusually friendly with, a nun that Stone has some sort of sexual past with, and his shrink, Dr. Dix (William Devane), who is more like a fishing buddy than a mental health professional. Each cast member gets an obligatory peculiarity.

Every single one of these characters, and more, have some unarticulated history with Stone. They are not even subplots. They’re little loose threads that should be plucked out of the story. Their distracting sub-stories make No Remorse feel like a meandering collection of awkward encounters that are both unexplained and have no bearing on the primary story.

There is even time devoted to the uncomfortable relationship between Stone and his dog, Reggie. I wish I were joking. There are multiple scenes where Reggie (ably played by Joe the dog) stares longingly at Stone, who is unable to return the love. You can see the pain of unrequited love in Reggie’s eyes.

You’ve seen Stone before. The character is an amalgamation of nearly every hard-boiled trait you can think of. He is an alcoholic. He has been suspended from his job. It is implied that he may be suicidal. He has more faith in instinct than “fancy degrees”. He listens to classical music on vinyl while sitting alone in a room, drinking scotch, talking to his golden retriever as if it were a real person.

At one point he even pulls his phone out of the wall, a feat that leads to an awkward running gag about his new cell phone. Essentially he is a stereotypical troubled cop, haunted by demons and obsessions that are ultimately what drives him, what makes him very good at his job.

There's a lot of room to work with stock characters like Stone. Our collective knowledge of the detective as archetype can yield interesting results, it can be something to build on, to play with, to expand on and explore. The problem with No Remorse is that Stone is nothing more than a type. Everything he says sounds familiar because it’s all been said before. Everything he does looks familiar because it has all been done before.

In 2010, it's simply not enough to be this formulaic. The result is that the entire movie feels like watching a mediocre episode of a mediocre cop show.

Selleck and the other screenwriters try to make the dialogue sound like something a detective would say, but like everything else, it topples into cliché. There is no subtext to the conversations or interactions. In fact, the characters speak almost exclusively in what would normally be subtext. If there is supposed to be sexual tension, they voice it. If one character is afraid for the safety or wellbeing of another, they say so. If one character thinks another is a murderer, they tell them as much to their face.

In Jesse Stone: No Remorse, nuance and subtlety has been replaced by the obvious and transparent.

The DVD of Jesse Stone: No Remorse comes with no extras. I was hoping for an in-depth featurette exploring the nature of Stone's relationship with Reggie, but alas, I was disappointed.


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"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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