‘The Gateway’ Review: Unlikely Yet Entertaining Neo-Noir

The Gateway is a movie about an old telephone switchboard. It’s based on a short story by Margaret Atwood, called The Man Who Grew Young . The movie is about the man who grew up to become the man who runs the old telephone switchboard, and becomes involved in a telephone repair scam.

If you’re looking for a movie that plays more on the mind than on the screen, look no further than The Gateway . A strange, arthouse movie that plays more on the mind than on the screen, The Gateway keeps you guessing long after the credits roll.

With that in mind, I watched Gateway, an entertaining if ultimately forgettable thriller that, in an incredibly odd twist, was made by the same people who brought us the first Saw film franchise. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past two decades, the Saw films are a horror franchise about a man who traps people in a movie theater and graphically murders them for amusement.

“The Gateway,” which is set in St. Louis but filmed on the Virginia shore, tries to deal with serious social issues while wearing the vibrant colors of a stylised neo-noir. Despite this, it permits itself to be pulled in far too many ways for any of them to be fully fulfilled. Nonetheless, with greater control over characters and pace, advertising and music video director Michele Civetta improves on his first film, the esoteric jumble “Agony.” On September 3, the odd yet enjoyable Lionsgate picture will be released in select theaters, on-demand, and online, with disc versions arriving a week later.

Parker Jode (Shea Whigham) was up in a foster home after his mother died of an overdose and his father abandoned him. He’s a former pro fighter who now works as a state social worker, attempting to repair other people’s families. He has developed a paternal interest in Ashley (Taegen Burns) in this role, including bringing her to school when her mother, Dahlia (Olivia Munn), arrives.

When Mike (Zach Avery) is freed from prison, he returns home to his wife and child, whether they like it or not. While collaborating with local crime lord Duke (Frank Grillo), Dahlia’s custody of Ashley was nearly lost due to his past misdeeds. Despite this, he quickly returns to his previous life, further cementing his image as a liar, wife-beater, and pathologically jealous spouse.

An armed robbery on Duke’s behalf develops into a massacre, leading police to retrace their steps back to the suspected suspect Frank. However, our heroes are forced to escape from vicious gangsters when his kid is used as an unwitting courier for stolen heroin bricks. This is bad, since after being fired for hitting an obnoxious employee, protective Parker no longer has governmental authority. Marcus is forced to reconcile with his ne’er-do-well father, Marcus, a cleaned-up jazz musician (Bruce Dern).

“The Gateway” moves quickly enough to retain the audience’s attention, if not fast enough to hide its numerous parts, much alone merge them into a coherent whole. Characters seem to have been taken from one or more genre cliché books, yet they sometimes open their mouths to preach against American imperialism or systemic corruption. Parker’s rockabilly bouffant, candy-colored lighting flanking tactics, or a shootout in a bordello that seems to be a series of art exhibitions all represent the film’s genuine, somewhat maudlin handling of abuse issues.

Civetta is Asia Argento’s ex-husband, whom he saddled with an excessive amount of histrionics in the Gothic thriller “Agony,” which was filmed in Italy. The film’s frequent mismatch between style and content recalls her directorial debut, “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things,” in which terrible events were portrayed in an affectedly prettified way. “The Gateway” frequently appears to be more concerned with imbuing its male characters with Tarantino-esque hipster flair than addressing seriously the miseries of crime, poverty, and substance addiction in which they live as they hang out in garishly decorated dive bars and brilliantly colored alleys.

If “Agony” was lifeless and ridiculous, its sequel had more overall narrative drive but lacked the ability to create suspense. The inclusion of retro-sounding funk, R&B, and soul music suitable for a good-time caper film helps to tone down the sloppy violence. These decisions bolster the film’s image in an artificially exoticized South, more Memphis-of-the-mind noir than St. Louis, the “gateway to the West,” with its tragically high murder rate.

A clunker of a fadeout occurs when a film with little opportunities for African American characters (aside from a single scene for Keith David) unleashes a discordant bombardment of churchy pulpit and gospel choir excitement as if it had always emphasized a “Black Lives Matter” theme. You can’t say Civetta and his two co-writers don’t have strong emotions about the United States’ current situation. Those ideas, though, come off as cluttered and half-baked in what ends up being a produced potboiler. Since Alex Felix Bendana’s original screenplay (then named “Where Angels Die”) first appeared on the Black List of highly rated unproduced screenplays over a decade ago, it has undergone modifications.

Despite having a huge number of individual mistakes that add up to a harsh total, “The Gateway” manages to go down fast, thanks in part to a lively cast and a spectacular visual presentation. In this section, no one gets more than a few external characteristics (and the women much fewer), yet the actors do their best to convey hard-living emotions. Even though she, like everyone else here, has to cope with some clumsy, on-the-nose language, Avery’s performance is arguably the finest. Despite this, he turns Mike, a potentially cardboard villain, into a terrifyingly believable maniac who is always a hair’s breadth away from exploding in violence.

SCORE: 6 OUT OF 10

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