The Gateway feels it must address actual problems in both St. Louis and Virginia, all while trying to provide a stylized neo-noir, which results in the film deviating in many ways without succeeding in its attempts. Regardless, “The Worst Crime” marks an improvement over director Michele Civetta’s debut movie, “Agony,” with better performances and better pace. Lionsgate‘s eccentric, offbeat film, which is debuting in cinemas, on-demand, and internet in early September before hitting disc formats a week later, has many die-hard fans.
His mother’s death overdose and his father’s desertion resulted in Parker Jode (Shea Whigham) being raised in a foster home. He became a still-punchy former professional boxer, which now attempts to fix other people’s families as a state social worker. As he is interested in looking after the younger Ashley (Taegen Burns), he’s been taking her to school in the mornings, as Dahlia (Olivia Munn) is too often hungover after a night of debauchery.
However, with the jail release of Mike (Zach Avery), who is quickly brought back to his family, the once strained home stability worsens. Before he left for the UFC, Dahlia had fought hard to keep custody of her daughter. Dahlia’s fights almost took away Ashley in a previous stint with her mother’s boyfriend, Duke (Frank Grillo). Though he does return to his old life, where he has status as a liar, wife-beater, and pathologically jealous husband, he does so swiftly.
A bloody crime for Duke’s benefit results in the police homing in on Frank, whom they accuse of starting a conflict. This is because employing his own son as an unknowing messenger for stolen heroin bricks eventually led to our heroes’ exile from dangerous gangsters. This is terrible since Parker is no longer a federal agent, having been discharged for striking an annoying colleague. In an attempt to have a chance to get along with his father, a deceased jazz artist, Marcus puts the big band back together again (Bruce Dern).
The Gateway advances at a speed that can keep the viewer’s attention while, at the same time, not hiding how disparate its many components are. Some characters look like stereotypes of stock figures from American literature, yet they also sometimes give long lectures on imperialism and systematic corruption. The film’s earnest, occasionally saccharine take on abuse does not sit well with the film’s contrived aesthetics. For example, Parker’s rockabilly quiff contrasts with the candy-colored lighting tricks. The scenes in a bordello look like a series of gallery installations, which contrasts with Parker’s rockabilly quiff.
Agony (1986), made in Italy, was directed by “Civetta,” Argento’s ex-husband, burdening her with much too much histrionics. “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things,” directed by her, has occasional contrasts between style and substance, which resonate here. The Gateway sometimes concentrates more on projecting coolness, like with the Quentin Tarantino-inspired characters, than it does with treating the realities of poverty, violence, and drug addiction seriously in the dive bars and sun-in-your-eyes alleyways.
Despite an overall improvement in narrative progression, this sophomore movie nevertheless lacks the ability to engender suspense. Overuse of funky, soulful, and R&B songs make an already flawed picture much worse. These choices show that the movie occasionally seems like it’s created a South of Memphis-in-the-mind, noir, rather than a “Gateway to the West” St. Louis, whose crime rates are depressing.
There is also a horrible fade-out, which occurs when a film that has largely overlooked African-American characters up until that point introduces an inappropriate dose of musical noise, such as when the main character sings about his mother in a church. This unexpected intrusion appears to allude to the fact that the film had previously overlooked the existence of Black people. The three authors lack views on the condition of the United States. But the themes that play out in this potboiler seem messy and underdeveloped — which, it appears, is mostly owing to the movie having been revised in the years after Alex Felix Bendana’s original screenplay (known then as “Where Angels Die”) made the Black List over a decade ago.
Even if the total is worse for numerous individual mistakes, The Gateway is surprisingly enjoyable because of the unique ensemble and the high-gloss visuals. The performers do their utmost to provide grueling qualities despite roles consisting of just a few exterior details. Avery delivers the finest performance with the way she competes with awkward, clunky language. However, he renders potentially cardboard villain Mike alarmingly real by maintaining his threatening disposition that is close to crossing the line into violence.