Film Review | Silhouette

Set in the high-risk world of Malta's underground racing culture, Mark Doneo's big screen foray is a wreck of a different kind.

All the fancy cars in the world can't save Mark Doneo's Silhouette from crashing and burning on the big screen.
All the fancy cars in the world can't save Mark Doneo's Silhouette from crashing and burning on the big screen.

One of the scourges of good writing is the insidious and easy-to-fall-into phenomenon of the 'info dump'. Also informally known as the "As You Know, Bob..." monologue, it refers to those unfortunate instances during which lazy writers decide to convey key information in the story through dialogue.

This recourse to misguided contrivance is, sadly, one of the many problems with Silhouette - the local Mark Doneo/One Productions response to the 'Fast and Furious' franchise.

The unintentionally zany potpourri of genres - part racing romp, part gangster film, part domestic drama - largely takes place in an imagined 'underground' Maltese racing world, the ins-and-outs of which we are, however, introduced to with a distinct lack of cinematic grace, as secondary characters deliver exposition in crude paragraphs of speech, telling each other things they clearly know full well.

It may seem like a small detail - surely, a minor niggle, you might say: we're here for the cars and the action, after all! But in fact, it's a telling feature - a sign that Doneo and co., while undoubtedly having a following on local television, still don't have what it takes to string a feature film together.

Mark Doneo - also director and producer - plays Daniel Curmi, a professional car thief fresh out of Kordin, where he was incarcerated for four years due to his role in a robbery gone wrong. But Daniel's involvement in crime stretches way, way back - it's part of his family history since 1955 - and now that he's been released from prison, the baddies are coming home to collect.

Though there's no love lost between Daniel and his estranged son, the trainee kickboxer Jamie (Darien Doneo), Daniel's attempts to reconcile with his wife Aleksandra (Louise Doneo) appear to be dashed when he suspects she has settled in with another man while he was doing time at Kordin.

Naturally (!), Daniel decides to become a vagrant, settling into a shanty hut in Comino. But when gangsters from his past visit him and threaten the livelihood of his family - and nearly kill his dog, 'Ice' - Daniel is spurned to action.

Returning to the island with a scarred face and only marginally less wounded pride, he realises that the only way out is to hook up with his old friends for some illegal car racing... if anything, their success would also ensure that Aleksandra's ailing private hospital will continue to operate, as it needs an injection of money fast.

Okay, let's put things into - admittedly dismal - perspective. Silhouette is a Doneo vanity project about the Outlaw Daniel Curmi and his loyal posse of rag-tag car racing friends, Ethan (Ray Cutajar), Ryan (Simon Xuereb) and the dim-witted Jimmy (Lawrence Buontempo), and is ever so slightly better than its most recent cinematic predecessor, the home-grown fantasy 'epic' Adormidera.

It's essentially a malignant outgrowth of a television series episode - which means that while it's hopelessly clunky in parts, it also maintains a sheen of technical 'competence' - it looks more or less okay, and basic rules of editing are more or less respected - that the infinitely more muddled Adormidera didn't care to invest time or energy in.

But this is meagre praise - scraped from the very bottom of the barrel of critical mercy. Because like Adormidera, this is another film that simply shouldn't be up on a cinema screen. Let's not even get into Doneo's acting - his face perma-pinched, displaying a wooden emotional range worthy of Keanu Reeves - or the blatant display of product placement (a climactic shout-out to Maypole Bakery may just elicit a belly laugh for all the wrong reasons). I'll concede that a large number of people will be content with the automotive action on display and will consider it worth the admission price.

But sins against the basic tenets of storytelling are unforgivable, and unfortunately they are to be found in great abundance in Doneo's film. The real killer here is the way Doneo and co. appear to be convinced that in order for a film to work, you just need to string all the 'cool bits' together and hope they stick for long enough (and make no mistake, the film is long by any standard, clocking in at a full two hours). A central sequence illustrates this beautifully (disastrously?). Set to a rousing Airport Impressions ditty, it's split into three tiers: one in which Daniel's buddies are competing in yet another race, while Daniel himself is trying to shake off the persistent police detective Albert Sullivan (Keith Richard) on the road. Meanwhile, the young Jamie is in the ring, and he wins his tussle.

All three of our good guys 'win' at the end of each sequence - cutting neatly at the climax of the Airport Impressions song, and also, coincidentally or not, just in time for the intermission - but Doneo doesn't really bother showing us how they get there. The race is going on and then, out of nowhere, Daniel's friends emerge victorious... and things go the same way for both Daniel and Jamie.

It's like all the ingredients seem to be in place. But something is missing. That something is a sensitivity to film narrative, to pacing... basically, all of the things we should take for granted in any other film.

Screenwriting guru Robert McKee will be setting up an institute for scriptwriting in Malta very soon. Judging by both Silhouette and Adormidera, he can't come soon enough.

 

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What really ruined it for me is how the cars in the car scenes were being driven obviously slowly. In the drag races, you could hear the engine being barely revved. You could see the diesel smoke from the camera van as well. But the worst was the scene with the Nissan GT-R, when they were driving near Fort St. Elmo. Passenger says "ghaggel!". Driver replies "ga qieghed gass mall-pjanca!". And then the camera moves to a spot behind the driver, and we can read the rev counter on the dashboard and it's 2000rpm! Gass mall-pjanca indeed...