2017 | DIR. JESSE V JOHNSON | REVIEW BY SHAUN CRAWFORD.
Deemed too arthouse for that crowd, TBO played the festival circuits, failing to find a distributer until now. 5-years down the track, with a forced colourisation of the footage, it may not be the film Johnson & Co. set out to make but at least we finally get the opportunity to see the labor of love.
Set in turf-war LA, TBO is Romeo And Juliet played against a gangster battle-ground. The Tancredi’s and the Romano’s are at each other’s throats and from within this dangerous murk smooth, uber-stylish shylock Gabriel falls in love with Eva Romano.
Bish, bash, bosh, she’s taken and now Gabe has to turn against his kin in order to rescue the love of his life. The plot has literally been retold for hundreds of years.
Like the best entries in Jesse V. Johnson’s career (The Butcher and Charlie Valentine) his script for THE BEAUTIFUL ONES is a lean, muscular film that doesn’t shy away from the ultimate masculine idea; sharp tailored suits, whiskey on the rocks and straight-razor shaves. The catch is that this lifestyle becomes the downfall for everyone it touches. Johnson’s script is entirely self-aware all the way from the to-camera asides to the fashion choices Tancredi makes.
Ross McCall brings the charm and charisma as he channels the laconic, unshakable cool of McQueen and Marvin while everyone else around him loses their minds. A McQueen obsessed gangster with a soft side that only ever presents itself around women who is as capable in a shoot-out as he is in the sheets.
Fernandra Andrade as Eva is sweet and instantly lovable and while her chemistry with McCall carries a lot of the film as we watch the two of them fall in love over sunset, cliff-side drives in a $100,000 Cobra Roadster and romantic dinner dates, she really doesn’t have much to do other than serve as a counterpoint to McCall’s hyper-masculine tough-guy.
It’s a shame for Johnson that TBOs should arrive so late. The films tight budget is mostly overcome by inventive uses of form and a deft hand in the action department (Johnson has been a stuntman and co-ordinator for decades) but in the intervening 5-years since its production, Johnson has released three other films with a fourth in the can waiting to drop.
His evolution as a filmmaker and storyteller has taken leaps and bounds and, as a result, the failings in THE BEAUTIFUL ONES may feel like a backwards step to those that aren’t aware of the films history, but for those that are and can place it in Johnson’s trajectory, it is an important film in his cannon. The one where he made his boldest choices and likely learned his greatest lessons.
It’s won’t be for everyone and it’ll be too easily dismissed as a film promoting ‘toxic masculinity’ but that’s an obvious and simple critique for a film that is so stylish, fun and, at times, surprisingly sweet.