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Bushwick starring Brittany Snow - film review

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A young American couple are exiting a subway station in the working-class Brooklyn borough of the title, writes Tom Ogg in his review of Bushwick (certificate 15).

Bushwick imagines what would happen if the southern American states attempted to secede

The loved-up pair – civil engineering student Lucy (Brittany Snow) and her boyfriend, Jose (Arturo Castro) – hold hands and chat about Jose’s impending introduction to Lucy’s parents.

The scene is akin to that which might open any old run-of-the-mill romantic drama – until, that is, a man staggers down the subway steps besides them, engulfed in flames.

Panic-stricken, Jose tosses his backpack to the ground and legs it above ground to investigate – whereupon he is burnt to a crisp by an exploding vehicle.

So begins Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s Bushwick, an implausible but compelling low-budget action-thriller.

The film – which isn’t a new release, but is new to Netflix – documents the fallout when a violent insurgency consumes New York City, focusing chiefly on Lucy’s attempts to stay alive amid the escalating carnage. To this end, she wisely teams up with Stupe, a gruff combat veteran convincingly played by pro wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista.

‘Is this 9/11 again?’, Lucy asks him. Well, no. In fact, it’s something so improbable that even the most nutty of conspiracy theorists would likely dismiss it as far-fetched.

In short, discontented white Southerners have staged an uprising to secede all Southern states from the rest of America and – in a particularly incomprehensible piece of plotting – have decided that ethnic communities are less likely to be armed, and thus easier to overthrow, than their white counterparts.

Thankfully, Milott and Murnion’s ambitious direction (mostly) overcomes such narrative illogicality, with the directorial duo incorporating ten-minute-plus single-takes to add a real sense of intimacy and urgency to the unfolding action.

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Imagine the celebrated climactic scene from Children of Men, extended to 90 minutes.

It’s an undeniably impressive feat, all the more so for having been achieved on such a relatively low budget.

The opening sequence in particular is effective, with Lucy desperately trying to avoid sniper’s bullets as the camera follows her through the war-torn streets of Bushwick for an uninterrupted eight minutes.

Of course, such look-at-me techniques can be off-putting, with viewers too busy wondering when and how the filmmakers snuck in edits to fully concentrate on the story (whenever the camera panned suspiciously close to a brick wall or darkened doorway, I’d find myself shouting at the screen: ‘Oh, that was definitely a cut!’).

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Perhaps more distractingly still, there are also a handful of conventional cuts, one of which takes place mid-conversation as Lucy and her sister, Belinda, sit chatting in the latter’s apartment.

Given the filmmaking acrobatics that Milott and Murnion have performed elsewhere to maintain the illusion of quasi-continuous takes, it seems odd that they would then choose to cut at such a straightforward moment.

I suspect someone flubbed a line at the time and resources simply weren’t available to attempt a lengthy re-shoot.

Certainly, the film’s budget does show at times, such as when the shadow of a cameraman is briefly glimpsed as Lucy and Stupe descend a stairwell.

But then, it’s a lot harder to avoid such mistakes without the 17 million dollars that director Alejandro González Iñárritu had when making the conceptually similar Birdman (2014).

As you’d expect, given the subject matter, Bushwick is rife with not-so-subtle political subtext.

‘I was just following orders,’ says a Texan ‘soldier’ when interrogated by Stupe, while elsewhere a key character reveals they lost their family on 9/11, remarking ‘it goes on and on and it never f***ing stops’.

Needless to say, those who dislike preachy subtext and attention-seeking directorial flourishes are likely to feel much the same way about Milott and Murnion’s film.

However, for those who enjoy the occasional too-ambitious-for-its-own-good economic action movie, Bushwick is well worth a visit.

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