A cold, wet, sinister-looking abandoned factory, two serious men with automatic rifles staring out the window, obviously expecting a visitor they deem dangerous enough to keep them on their toes. A black car slowly approaches, and you can feel the tension transferring through the screen. A young man enters the factory and sits down to negotiate a seemingly simple trade: one kilo of cocaine for thirty grand. He sits at the table across a man called Michael, obviously the boss of the thugs with rifles nervously awaiting orders on the floor above them. A bottle of whiskey on the table, two men staring at each other, and the silence that echoes through your ears more powerfully than a locomotive racing by your window in the middle of the night. We know why the young man is there, and it isn’t simply to purchase some drugs. But does his adversary know as well? From the very first scene, and literally everything shown from then on, you get the feeling nothing can go as planned, and as the events patiently lead us to the inescapably bloody conclusion, the nerve-racking pace, generously helped by very effective sound design, makes sure the epilogue is bound to affect us one way or the other. The first impression that immediately paved its way to my mind was that The Line looked gorgeous, which is a compliment headed in the way of not only director Luke Wallace, who obviously dictated the transformation of his vision to the screen, but also to his director of photography Phil Tartaglione and production designer Timothy W. Stevens. Abundantly helped by the top-notch work from the guys in the sound department led by sound mixer Ben S. L. Wong, the perfect setting for a thrilling crime drama is prepared, and the stage is handed over to surprisingly good actors for what was probably a rather low-budget picture.
Written and directed by young filmmaker Luke Wallace, produced by David J. Bonner, The Line is a technically really well-executed story of violence, retribution and ambition that actually has two irreplaceable stars. The first one is called Peter Patrikios, playing the role of the drug lord Michael, a talented, underrated actor of a certain Michael Shannon-like quality who completely dominates the screen, at the same time highly intimidating and very casual, charismatic and intelligent. The second star, as unusual as it might sound, is the film’s sound.
Throughout the film’s 24 minutes, the atmosphere is slowly and effectively pumped up in great extent through The Line’s sound design. Beautifully staged shots by cinematographer Tartaglione are constantly embellished by small details that find their way to your ears: the sound of constantly dripping water, the dramatic power of drops of rain neverendingly hitting the same spot on the drenched concrete floor, the sound of ice cubes clattering in a glass, the unnerving sound of those same cubes grinded under Michael’s teeth, the sound of Michael drawing smoke from his cigarette… Such seemingly small things, if orchestrated cleverly, can do wonders for the mood and tension, and The Line uses them to their maximum advantage.
Patrikios, of course, had plenty of help from his talented co-stars: Johnathan Davis in the role of the undercover detective Kev, Walter DeShields as his partner getting more nervous by the minute, worried about covering his friend’s back, John Donahue as the raw, silent, heavy-breathing thug and Donal Brophy as his cynical counterpart ceaselessly taunting him. Director Wallace’s screenplay is lean and tidy, no superfluous sentences, no tiresome over-explaining… The Line is a bitter slice of (criminal) life, and Wallace obviously cares enough about the credibility of his story and characters not to spoil the story by pampering his audience.
The heart of the film is the intriguing conversation between Michael and Kev about what animals people think it’s okay to kill and where and why people actually draw the line. These are a philosophical couple of minutes we can imagine coming from Tarantino’s notebook, springing to spotlight in a situation that seems suitable for practically anything besides talking about the morality of killing fish. There’s also a clever use of symbolism in the shot where we can see a tiger gnawing at a gazelle in its mouth: not only does it serve as a catalyst for the inspired dialogue that followed, it also intelligently depicts the two men’s current situation at the negotiating table, foreshadowing the inevitable conclusion.
Luke Wallace’s film is a solid crime drama that makes the most out of its running time, and as the end credits started rolling, I thought to myself this could be a great ending to a very good thriller. If the future holds such plans for The Line, it’s safe to say one particular reviewer is eager to see it on the big screen.
Tell us a bit about your filmmaking beginnings. How and why did you become a filmmaker?
I sort of fell into filmmaking by accident. In college, I wanted to get into the music business. My final year I was required to take a few classes in video editing, and began making short films for class projects. I fell in love with it. The entire process of creating an experience was fascinating. Shortly after I became obsessed with cinema.
How did the idea for The Line come up? What inspired you to write such a dark story?
The lifespan of my scripts changes drastically from original thought to final draft. Ideas morph as time goes on and many separate ideas and concepts often mold together. I think the original thought came from looking up at the stars and questioning significance. When you think about how small we are in the grand scheme, you instantly realize we are relatively meaningless. Our existence is not really significant. At first, this realization seems grim. But if you really ponder this fact, you soon begin to see that if you are insignificant, so too are all of your problems, all of your anxieties, depressions, worries and so on. If you can grasp that your problems mean nothing, you can taste a bit of freedom, and that freedom seems significant to me.
A little later on, I had another random thought, also about significance. I was looking at the act of “fishing” vs. “hunting” and how “fishing” is generally more accepted by society. “Hunting” is often looked at as more inhumane. At least it seems this way to me. I wondered why this is. Why a bird or a deer’s life has more importance than a fish. I began to think deeper about how we all, as humans—with regard maybe to some Buddhist monks—subjectively place levels of value on different animals, including our own species. What gives one animal more value over another in a person’s mind? Certainly there are many reasons. It was just an interesting thought that I decided to explore in a script. It started off as just two characters sitting and discussing this concept.
My favorite part of writing is when ideas expand and become something different. Even more so, when two generic people chatting on page one of a script, start to develop into real characters and their conversation advances in an unexpected direction. That’s what happened with this script. I think because the subject matter of the concept deals with the significance of lives, it was an easy Segway into the genre of crime drama. At the time I was also reading quite a bit of Dostoevsky and watching a lot of crime dramas. I’m sure this bled into my writing, and one of my generic characters turned evil (laughs). I find tension very cinematic, and I love villains.
What were the biggest obstacles you encountered during the process?
The biggest challenge was finding a location. Luckily, less than a week before shooting we locked down a really amazing place. The abandoned fortress was an old ship workers’ building in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. It’s been unoccupied for forty years, and it was falling apart. It was perfect. It became a character.
How satisfied are you with your film? When you look at it now, are there certain things you wish you had done differently?
I had a great time making this film. My Producer, Dave Bonner was outstanding, my DP, Phil Tartaglione was great, and the crew was very professional. This allowed me to focus on the performances. We had a lot of fun.
Ya, I see some flaws. Little things here and there that could have been executed better, mainly due to the time constraint. But I’m happy with the final product.
What was it like to see your film on the big screen at the festivals?
It is tough to watch my work with other people. I think it’s a combination of the fact that at this point I’ve seen the film a thousand times and also being self-conscious of the flaws. But I do love talking about the film with people.
According to your opinion, what is the best film you’ve seen in the last couple of years?
A few that come to mind are Incendies, Hiroshima Mon Amour, and The Taste of Cherry.
What’s the best film ever made and what makes it stand out?
Since I was about 8 or 9, Braveheart has been my favorite film. It is so powerful. The performances, the scope, the action, and most of all James Horner’s amazing score.
Where do you see yourself in, let’s say, five years’ time?
I’ll be writing and making films. Hopefully with some rich friends that want to fund my projects (laughs).
What’s coming after The Line? What’s your next project?
A short film about lost love.
If you had all the resources in the world, what kind of a film would you like to make?
Nothing fantastical. Just the feature I’ve been writing for the past five years—River City Blues. It’s a story about the inhabitants of a small river town.
Written by Sven Mikulec
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