The Convict, written and directed by Mark Battle (Here Lies Joe, The Janitor), is a bleak yet focussed bit of character study. Utilizing a minimum of dialogue the film follows David Eller (Dean Tempe) the convict of the title.
The film begins with Cameron smashing a bedroom window to bits with a shovel. He is dressed in an orange jumpsuit and has the remains of handcuffs on his wrists. Eller has been injured, he has blood on the front of his prison uniform. He grabs new clothes and digs a bullet out of his abdomen.
For one heart stopping moment a young boy comes into the bathroom where David treats his wound. Afterward he steals a car and heads out to be with his wife. Along the way this determined convict meets a store clerk, a driver who gives him a lift and his mother-in-law.
The Convict is a bleak film. David is focussed on being with his ill wife. The vehicle runs out of petrol and David is forced to hitch a ride. Buddy (Travis Mitchell) gives Eller a lift and then pulls a gun on him. The men struggle and David survives.
Eller is a character who has filled all the required boxes to get parole. Unfortunately at his hearing the chair (Michael Anthony Coppola) is not sympathetic. He tells David that he hears no remorse. He then bluntly says that the convict needs to do his time. Eller mentions that his wife is very ill and that he really wants to be with her.
Clearly David is so intent on seeing his sickly wife that he escapes after his parole is denied. The film is shot with a bleak lack of color. All the tones are pale and muted, similar to the appearance of the convict as he fights off the cold and going into shock.
The inference is that David committed a horrific crime. Eller’s taking every class available plus the chair’s reaction to his bid for parole leads one to believe that whatever David did, it was heinous.
Battle uses the bleakness of the winter setting and the lack of colour to allow us to focus on Eller’s struggle to be with his wife. The lack of dialogue shows that David has never been a socially adept creature. This also shows why the convict took many of his classes, one of which was Anger Management.
When David does speak, his sentences are succinct and very clear. For instance at the doorway where he encounters Mary (Suzanne Bryan). She goes to close the door and lifting his gun, Eller says simply, “I’m coming in.”
Battle’s message is clear, David Eller is a desperate man who will kill to get to his wife. He is so focussed on his target that conversation is not essential. The Convict also seems to say that regardless of our attempts at redemption and change, those in charge will always expect more.
Dean Tempe, who played a much different character in “Here Lies Joe,” convinces as David Eller. His performance is full of a truth that few actors can achieve in a full length film. Travis Mitchell also gives noteworthy turn as “Buddy.”
Mark Battle has given us another splendid offering. The man is a veritable filmmaking machine, a’la Robert Rodriguez , where he does everything bar the makeup and the music.
The Convict is a 5 star effort. It’s bleakly focussed protagonist is a man we root for, regardless of his past, and that, in itself, is a triumph.