Adam Nelson’s indie feature debut rotates around the lives of two men, Eric and Michael, whose stories don’t seem related at first, but turn out to be more interlinked than we ever dared to imagine. Eric (Matt Jones) is a troubled adolescent whose mother left his family and is now living with his self-destructive, alcoholic father who seems to blame his son for his sad and miserable life. We see how Eric’s life is slowly shattering to pieces, but his father, drunk or unconscious for most of the time, doesn’t seem to notice his struggles. Michael (Finnian Nainby-Luxmore), on the other hand, seems to have his life more together – he’s away at University, studying Business and he just started to see Cheryl (Isabelle Glinn), a charming and compassionate girl with a strong moral compass who’s trying to join the police (a detail I particularly liked – women are rarely seen as career driven, let alone pursuing an occupation that is mainly associated with men). But his long morning runs, where he tries to release the anger that’s bottling up inside of him (or so it seems), his quietness and his occasional violent behaviour make it clear that there’s more to his story and that his identity struggles are probably due his troubling background. As the film progresses, their connection finally gets revealed in a tragic climax, where one of the boys ends up ending his life, leaving the other one in grief, self-blame and in search of revenge.
Little Pieces is an ambitious emotional drama about family, emotional abuse, abandonment and the anger, resentment and vulnerability that comes with it. It unfolds in a non-linear narrative, with constant flashbacks and flash-forwards (starting with the climax and then slowly introducing us to the rest of the story) that leaves us guessing how one scene is connected to the other, trying to put all the little, fractured pieces together (hence the title) through the whole film. The script is well written (although at times a bit too melodramatic), with compelling, three-dimensional characters who are troubled and flawed as any human beings, all pursuing their different life goals and ambitions – from having a career and leaving their old life behind to doing their duty on a job and drinking their problems away. All the lead performances are strong and moving, as is the supporting role of Graham Cawte who could easily portray David as a drunk and abusive father, but manages to give his tortured character depth and complexity.
It’s impressive what can be done with such a small budget and limited time (the film was shot in 18 days), when you have a strong script and a vision of what your film’s message should be. Nelson’s directing also deserves a special mention for his great use of extreme close-ups, feeling for aesthetics and his amazing use of locations. There is this one particularly great scene at the ice rink, probably the film’s most spontaneous (if not even half-improvised), that wonderfully establishes the relationship between Michael and Cheryl without any actual dialogue between the two – it’s all in their body language and in the music score by Imraan Husain that perfectly sums up the atmosphere in every scene of the film.
I am never sure what to expect from indie films – they usually tend to be pretentious and artsy, without any real substance. But Little Pieces is the exact opposite of that and as such a great example of what an indie film is supposed to be: a strong story with an interesting narrative approach and an original use of camera. This is not a perfect film, but it is nevertheless a great indie debut and Adam Nelson’s compelling and unique style in directing certainly shows a lot of talent. The only thing that I would point out as the film’s weakness is the almost all male cast. With the exception of Cheryl that is, indeed, a very well-written female character, all the other characters appearing in the film are male. There’s Eric and Michael, Eric’s alcoholic father, Cheryl’s racist boss, Michael’s teacher and a social worker at Eric’s school; and no female characters to even the balance. But since I liked everything about Cheryl (from her incredible sense of justice, to her subversion of gender stereotyped jobs with her pursuit of joining the police force), this film nonetheless made a great impression on me.
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EDIT: The film has since been released and can be bought at littlepieces.vhx.tv/.
Directed by: Adam Nelson
Written by: Adam Nelson
Starring: Finnian Nainby-Luxmore, Matt Jones, Isabelle Glinn
Running Time: 80 minutes