Evan’s Crime – Day 6: The 22nd Annual Sedona International Film Festival

Film festDay 6 at the 22nd Annual Sedona International Film Festival and it’s one of great anticipation. Tonight, audiences have a chance to attend the initial performance of the locally produced film Sacred Journeys with Mackenzie Phillips, shot entirely in Sedona.

Journey logoThe film will have a second showing on Saturday afternoon, plus we’ll have a full review tomorrow, but if you want to be a part of a world premiere with appearances after the film with its cast, get in line for Sacred Journeys tonight, 6pm at Sedona Performing Arts Center.

Paris posterFilm historian and critic Jeffrey Lyons introduces a second film favorite this afternoon, 3:10pm at Harkins Sedona 6. Today’s special presentation is another chance to see a Gene Kelly classic on a big screen; the winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, An American in Paris

Plus, fans of Broadway should enjoy the documentary Once Upon a Dream where four singers who wished for a career on the Great White Way but chose other roads, now have a chance to fulfill dreams of earlier years: to perform at Carnegie Hall. Once Upon a Dream has its first festival showing today, noon at Harkins Sedona 6.

But this evening, consider the drama Evan’s Crime showing 6:10pm at Harkins Sedona 6. Here’s a full review.

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Evan posterThe thing about Evan’s crime is that he was in the wrong place, at the wrong time with the wrong people. That’s what his lawyer Jerry Levine (Bernard Hocke) tells the court. It could happen to any of us, but it happened to college student Evan White (Douglas Smith) and it came at a time when he was just about to make some big changes in his life.

In the new, deftly directed drama Evan’s Crime from Sandy Tung, Evan White is by all accounts a nice young man with an ambitious future. He may have unwisely decided to drop out of school to pursue a passion for music, and his dad (Jason Kirkpatrick) may be less than pleased with his son’s decision, but Evan’s pleasant girlfriend Melissa (Annika Noelle) is fine with it, and Evan feels good that he can make things work, so that’s what’s important. Then the bottom of Evan’s world drops out from under him.

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If the student/musician and other members of his band hadn’t made as much noise in the motel room after a gig as they did, they wouldn’t have attracted the attention of the motel manager who comes knocking on the door.  And then it happens.  The manager spies a bagful of money, some cocaine and lot of weed on a table. Evan and the guys are arrested, including an underaged girl, which doesn’t help.

The point of the film is to present a relatively young innocent and watch how a careless act spirals out of so much control, he becomes trapped within the confines of a merciless justice system that appears to offer no mercy and little justice. Evan’s Crime has no interest in debating the legality of weed, that’s not what the film is about. It’s whether the sentence fits the crime. Evan’s lawyer calls is it a Mickey Mouse crime – it was just a joint; the drugs weren’t even his – and begs the judge to look at the case with sanity and fairness, but that’s not how the prosecution sees it.

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As played by David Arquette, from lawyer Frank Coleman’s perspective, Evan White is a sexual predator – that sixteen year-old girl in the motel room who looked twenty really didn’t help – and considers the student, “An essential cog in the manufacture and sale of illegal drugs in the state of Louisiana and the entire south east.” The call for a twenty-eight year prison sentence sounds like madness, but Evan and his defense can’t rule it out. That uncompromising, Louisiana lawyer with an eye on political office intends to see things through.

Evan 2Told in a series of jumps and flashbacks that always have the potential to baffle, Evan’s Crime never confuses as to where you are in the narrative. Clearly, at certain present-time moments where we see Evan walking around in a suit, white shirt and tie, we realize some years must have passed from the when the young man played with the band and went to court. We don’t know what he’s up to, and we’re not altogether sure of how many years he may have really served, but while the events of Evan’s crime in that hotel room and the subsequent tragedy of an aggressive prosecution are slowly revealed, Evan is currently out of prison and, like an amateur sleuth, he’s following a hunch.

Scenes of earlier days can be determined in subtle ways. The TV sets are of the analog kind before things became digital; same with computer monitors. But when Evan talks on his IPhone, you know the setting has to be present. There’s also the effective use of cinematographer Kim Culotta’s hand-held lens that never succumbs to the overuse of jerky motions, but is unsettling enough to create an almost documentary, rough-around-the-edges real-life feel to everything.

Evan 1But this is not a documentary. As things progress and more of Evan’s history is revealed, the conventions of a mystery thriller kick in, altering the tone of things. We’re not sure why Evan is stalking that prosecutor, or why he’s carrying a gun, or why, for that matter, the lawyer who was successful in putting Evan behind bars is now accepting what looks like secret money across the table in a Marriott Hotel, observed by Evan from afar, but whatever it is, it doesn’t look good.

In truth, introducing that extra element of mystery surrounding a lawyer who might be doing something wrong doesn’t work as well as the details surrounding the boy’s crime, the courts, the relationship with the immensely likable Melissa and the tragedy of his father. It’s the injustice of the system and the devastating effects that an unfair punishment has on everyone involved that interests, not something that reminds us we’re watching fiction. When Evan’s probation office Adler (an outstanding James Moses Black in a small role) discovers what Evan is up to and why, it’s done with the economy of time as presented on a TV drama rather than a feature film. It doesn’t necessarily spoil things, but considering the surprising realism of the first two acts, the final act feels more conventional.

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Well crafted and well performed by some recognizable faces, today’s legality of smoking weed in states like Colorado and elsewhere and the fact that a more tolerant attitude towards general usage appears to be accelerating, all indicates that Evan’s relatively minor crime would possibly have different results today. But the point of a justice system where decisions are made through deals, often with cruel and unfair results as in Sandy Tung’s cautionary Evan’s Crime remain potent. But there’s another message and it’s perhaps the most potent of all: It’s the knowledge that despite our best intentions, unfortunate things could happen to anyone of us at anytime, and just like Evan White, even though our circumstances might be different, we could also be in the wrong place at the wrong time and surrounded by the wrong people.

Evan’s Crime will show tonight, Thursday, Feb 25, 6:10pm at Harkins Sedona 6, with a second performance on Saturday, Feb 27, 9:so am, also at Harkins Sedona 6.

Posted in 2016 Sedona International Film Festival Reports

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