- Ghosts of Empire Prairie (2013) Review

Title: A Public Ransom

Also known as:

Year: 2014

Genre: Independent / Thriller / Mystery / Noir / Comedy

Language: English

Runtime: 100 min

Director: Pablo D'Stair

Writer: Pablo D'Stair


When a selfish author, Steven, finds a missing person flyer with a crayon drawing on it, he calls the number on the flyer. Upon meeting the man who made the flyer, he refuses to believe that he actually has a child kidnapped, but is inspired by the whole thing and wants to write a book based on it. The man ends up becoming a larger part of his life than he ever wanted him to.

Our thoughts:
Pablo D'Stair hits the underground scene with a very commendable approach for his debut film - being simplistic. Taking what he has available and creating something out of it after having had issues getting people to actually produce his scripts. He has a story that doesn't require anything flashy. He focuses on something many indie filmmakers that we stumble upon put to the side: interesting characters and dialogue. "A Public Ransom" doesn't look like much, but given time it has lots to show.

Steven, a selfish author, finds a missing person flyer with a crayon drawing of a missing child and a phone number. Instead of calling the cops, his curious author mind decides it's better to call the number on the flyer and see what's up himself. As he meets up with Bryant, the guy who answered the phone, he's being fed a story about how he has kidnapped a child but will release her if Steven pays him $2000. Steven doesn't believe it. Instead, he starts discussing with his friend Rene how he can use it as a story for a book. But when Bryant becomes friends with Rene, he's starting to drive Steven crazy.

As the director has put it himself, it's visually inspired by filmmakers such as Bresson, Fassbinder and Jarmusch, and that's not too far of a stretch. I mean, it's a 2014 version of that - video in general just isn't as glorious. It's rough and simple, composed of stationary shots and often at a distance with natural lighting. It's usually night time and lamps and various lights are shining straight into the camera. It works with a movie that so heavily depends on dialogue, but it can tire you out after a while as well. Personally I liked it a lot when it was outside, the shots felt carefully composed even though it's all natural and simple. Meanwhile, inside shots are just not as interesting and that's obviously due to lack of space and freedom to pick the shots. Overall, for a movie that's about dialogue and the psychological impact of it, the visuals still become very important because they are so distinct. That's not a bad thing, but it's one of a few things that will seperate people.

The movie managed to get me very curious in its little mysteries. Getting answers to who Bryant is, whether he's actually a kidnapper and so forth isn't that important (and don't expect to), but Bryant's way of approaching Steven and vice versa is a mystery in itself. As we find out that they are both authors, there's an interesting aspect of the movie that shows two worlds of artists - the success and failures of art, the creativity or lack thereof, and so on. "A Public Ransom" brings up several sideplots such as that, that together show that Pablo D'Stair's main skill is in writing.

Dialogues between Carlyle Edwards' Steven and Goodloe Byron's Bryant are the best parts of the movie. It's where it moves forward and where the majority of the tension is. They also have a fantastic chemistry, so much so that I hope we'll see another movie with the two of them. One where the camera is more present, perhaps? I wouldn't say that Helen Bonaparte who plays Rene is a bad actress, but the scenes with her came off as more forced. That goes for Carlyle Edwards' performance in those scenes as well, but that could be part of the act. In those scenes he seemed to put on a much more pretentious persona than when he's facing Goodloe Byron. It's something that rubbed me the wrong way, though it didn't ruin the movie. All the actors do a great job considering how long the takes were, with a ton of dialogue spoken.

Despite being 100 minutes long (a pretty big effort for something like this), it managed to hold my interest. I think it could have been trimmed, while I'm also certain Pablo D'Stair intentionally made it this long to minimize cuts, keep it natural, and so on. It's an interesting movie, it has some funny parts but mainly it's a psychological little treat. It's obvious that Pablo D'Stair has something unique going for him, so we can only hope he continues to make movies, but without beating a dead horse (by making the same movie over and over again). If you liked the simplicity of the filmmaker Joseph Larsen, you might be intrigued by this one as it's like a noir thriller version of that. It's currently available to watch for free, so give it a shot through the website!

Positive things:
- It can be simple because it's all about the characters and dialogue.
- Keeps you interested despite being 100 minutes long.
- Good acting for the most part.
- Quite a few nicely composed shots, in all their roughness.

Negative things:
- Some scenes between Steven and Rene felt a bit forced.
- The visual style might get a bit tiring to look at.

Gore: 0/5
Nudity: 0/5
Story: 3/5
Effects: 0/5
Comedy: 2/5

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