By Jude Warne.
The title of this thriller perhaps suggests all one needs to know about its plot, tone and perspective. A girl is in trouble. The girl here, Signe (Alicja Bachleda), is a stereotype of stereotypes, a beautiful but double-crossing Euro chick who gets physically and verbally abused by the main male characters in the film. Director Julius Onah and his co-screenwriter Mayuran Tiruchelvam have littered the script with female-disempowerment terms such as “slut,” “bitch” and “whore.” These terms all get thrown around quite loosely throughout, and quite nonchalantly, as if there’s no problem whatsoever with their usage. They are usually directed at Signe, who basically is a lying double-crosser, who sometimes uses sex to get what she needs or wants, but who does not deserve to be called such things. If her character were a male character, who performed all of the same acts, he would not be called such things. I suspect that we are supposed to take these verbal insults as given, to accept the words as part of the film’s story’s world (which is one of present-day gangsters and white-collar creeps who wheel and deal in New York City), to overlook their sentiment and concentrate on the main story at hand (a basic noir-thriller). As a female audience member however, I could not do this. I cringed at each one, waiting in vain for one of the characters on screen to at least call his scene-partner out and tell him to cool it with the misogynistic name-calling. Lines such as “She’ll suck you off at night and fuck you over in the morning,” “That is some good pussy there man. She told me before she’ll take two, three guys at a time,” and the topper, “With women like you in the world, there is no such thing as rape. It’s just another four-letter word,” indicate that girls really are in trouble, if this is how they are being spoken to on screen today.
The film’s protagonist is August (Columbus Short) who may be the unluckiest bartender/struggling DJ ever, or at least on the Lower East Side of New York City. His bad luck is clinched when beautiful but double-crossing Euro chick Signe comes into his life. She’s meant as a femme fatale, and her arrival would perhaps seem more compelling if August were depicted as an unsuspecting and unconnected man, much like Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill being mistaken at random for George Kaplan in Hitchcock’s 1956 classic North by Northwest. Signe’s appearance is painted to fit in with August’s recent bad luck streak, and great pains are taken to backtrack exactly how the two characters are intertwined. The basic plot is this: upon finding footage of a drug dealer’s murder on Signe’s cellphone, August tries to help Signe and blackmail the murderer, a murderer who happens to be the white-collar creep son-of-a-billionaire Nicholas (Jesse Spencer). It is Nicholas who is responsible for the “good pussy” line, when, pre-murder, he tries to sell Signe’s body off onto the drug dealer in lieu of the full payment he owes him. This is after he’s plied both Signe and the drug dealer with a plethora of vodka. The drug dealer refuses at first, insisting that he doesn’t do sloppy seconds, and the two men go on at detailed length discussing the pros and cons of such, while Signe is still in the room, as though she is completely without agency, an object up for literal possession.
With the most cringeworthy line said by August to Senia when he believes that she has lied to him, I suspect that the filmmaker is purposely painting August as an angry asshole – but there is something to be said for the stuff of Cecil B. DeMille’s bible cinema, films that condemned immoral behavior yet took extreme pleasure in depicting it on screen before it all went kaput, before comeuppance was realized. This issue is also at play in most classic gangster films, which are made and watched to warn us against murder and adultery, yet relish in the road to punishment, the road we’re on before we get caught. Sex, blood and guts stuff. Saint Augustine’s classic “Lord, grant me chastity and continency, but not yet.” August’s line here is said in rage, and we all say childishly mean things when we’re enraged. But try to imagine a Humphrey Bogart-portrayed noir protagonist, also a wronged man, saying this, and you can’t, because it isn’t cool. It is not classy. There are some things we just don’t do. A Bogart character might feel as hurt, might feel as wronged by a beautiful woman, but he’s an adult functioning in the world and thus not all that surprised when something goes awry, when someone turns out to be two-timing him. He can handle it and doesn’t resort to the child-man retorts of “rape-doesn’t-exist-because-of-you” material. It is low and easy to find fault with. A more compelling male character might say a few biting one-liners, but more of the Howard Hawks variety. By filming such old school misogyny we are keeping it alive instead of letting it die out, we are feeding it. The vulnerable woman preyed upon by men – this is so old it’s exhausting, and here it just makes August look like a jerk. Also, to speak to Senia’s femme fatale role for a moment, she lacks ease, coolness and allure, just as August does. She’s vulnerable, but without the simultaneous attractive strength and indifferent power of 1940s screen dames. Senia is missing a very important something, a something that Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) of Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) had in spades. This something is an allure, a glamourous keeping of cool, a preservation of appearances under much duress, all while executing one’s double-crossing plans. Dietrichson held her power throughout that film, she never gave it away even when temporarily it looked like she had. She was calling the shots. Signe just comes across as to-ing and fro-ing mess. The girl in trouble.
Apart from a doting grandmother, the only other female character in TGIIT is Maria (Paz de la Huerta), a seemingly drugged-up sexed-up neighborhood gal who August’s “friend” Angel (Wilmer Valderrama) goes to see for information on the murder-blackmail. Within her first few seconds on screen, amidst a recounting of her exchange with Nicholas, Maria states that she’s “not so much into anal anymore.” This is the kind of dialogue that causes a female moviegoer to roll her eyes. Repeatedly.
Jude Warne is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.