“Passion. Murder. Betrayal. Just another day on the job.”
Full disclosure: the reviewer rolled the dice and gambled a contribution to help fund this independent production.
Private investigator Roland Drake (Tom Konkle) faces eviction from his office and his career after being disgraced during a missing persons case ending in tragedy. Ruined in the public eye and shunned by the law, everything seems over until redemption walks in: a curvy dark-haired beauty named Katherine Montemar… desperate to hire anyone who can locate her disappeared family members. Both vulnerable and in need of companionship, their undeniable attraction is cut short when Drake wakes next to a pool of blood and his new client vanished from his bed. After misdirecting his equally skilled but unscrupulous ex-partner Lew MacDonald (David Beeler) from discovering the potential crime scene on a suspicious chance visit, Drake is soon confronted by Katherine’s blonde sister Jennifer (Brittney Powell), armed with a fistful of photos and a .38 special. In 1940s Los Angeles where corrupt cops rule the city underworld and moral lines are anything but black and white, trouble is Roland Drake’s business… and business is good.
Hardboiled detectives, femme fatales, and a mandatory MacGuffin are all part of the tradition we call film noir. “Guns, dames, and hats” are the order of the day in these brooding period pieces, a bygone era of Hollywood like westerns and musicals. There have been the occasional callbacks with films like L.A. Confidential, Sin City, and even the original Blade Runner repurposing it as a vision of the future — a detail mostly missing from the recent sequel. All of these undertakings require extensive budgets, finding or recreating the trappings and props of the time period, and to develop the visuals required to invoke the all-important atmosphere that defines the film style. Rarely are the words “independent” and “noir” uttered in reference to a feature-length film intended to celebrate and champion a new entry into this staple of the movie industry, but with the right combination of players, passion, and just long enough of a shoestring to fish spare change out of the sewer, can a compelling dark thriller become the end result?
As evidenced by Trouble Is My Business, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Less a passion project than a labor of love, writer-director-actor Thomas Konkle gathered the necessary ingredients and managed to draw forth a film by sheer force of will. With years involved in the writing, planning, independent and personal financing, and using every movie-making trick imaginable, Trouble is to film noir what Once Upon a Time in the West was to the western: the final word. With classic elements, a fresh cast, and painstaking detail, Konkle has created a world both familiar and new. Twists, betrayal, and mystery are finely intertwined with the wit, violence, and eventuality of the genre.
Locations are important to a production like this, but what couldn’t be found and rented had to be created — often digitally. While Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow buckled under the weight of “look what we can do,” Konkle puts his players in the foreground and allowed the story to dictate the effects, not the other way around. With talents like Jordana Capra as matriarch Evelyn Montemar and Vernon Wells as Detective Barry Tate, the production is nearly seemless and perhaps too-real in its detail, from meticulous editing to a sweeping soundtrack. It’s clear what the filmmakers wanted this to become, and the time put into the post production shows what can be done with today’s off-the-shelf filmmaking tools and the ingenuity of modern creators.
Over the last five years, this reviewer has seen several independent productions shaped from concept to completion. From an old-time rocket ship carrying space rangers into the great beyond to a backwoods werewolf reneging on his deal with the devil, there’s no shortage of imagination out there while Hollywood continues to reboot television and movie franchises they never understood to begin with. Trouble sets itself apart in both ambition and execution, and the risk yielded a great reward: a film deserving to be seen and appreciated.
Four skull recommendation out of four