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Loaded Weapons: Lough's Blood Opera Shocks Racquet Club

Adam Bhala Lough (second from left) introduces his Weapons cast members (L-R) Jade Yorker, Nick Cannon, Paul Dano and Mark Webber at Friday's premiere

By S.T. VanAirsdale

I'm still not quite sure about the degree to which I like Adam Bhala Lough's film Weapons, which premiered in competition Friday at Sundance, but there's no question in my mind that it's long, slow-motion opening sequence is one of the most indelibly brilliant introductions I've ever seen -- so great, so outrageous, in fact, that it defies or possibly even precludes description. It owes more to the tense, tour de force terror of Irreversible than to the technique of a Touch of Evil or Snake Eyes, yet Weapons holds its own against any of those titles by simply extending its right hand by way of acquaintance before bitchslapping you with its left.

"That scene was the impetus for the entire movie," said Lough in the Q&A following the film's world premiere at the Racquet Club. "I had a dream one night, and my dream was that scene. I woke up and I wrote the scene down; over the next eight or nine days, I wrote 90 pages of the script. It was me thinking, 'How would this scene come about -- this scene of ultraviolence that was very much out of a dream and not so much out of reality?' So when it came time to shoot it, of course, everybody was talking about it: 'Are we really going to do this? Are we really going to show [SPOILER REDACTED], or are we just going to cut away to black an insinuate what happened?' And I was like, 'No, fuck that. We're going to show it.'

Indeed, Lough is about as bashful as Gaspar Noe or Larry Clark, both of whose prurient influences Weapons reflects in spades. As with Noe's Irreversible, which begins with its story's ending and features ironic (at best) new uses for a fire extinguisher, Lough's narrative splinters into revenge scenarios as enacted from places of doomed love; when teenager Reggie (Nick Cannon) learns of his sister's rape, he extracts the identity of her attacker and makes a beeline for his friends and the first gun he can find. Not far away in the same blighted, anonymous suburb, young Sean (Mark Webber) spends his first day home from college with his languishing buddies (including camera-wielding half-wit Paul Dano, playing the direct opposite of his harmless intellectual cynic in Little Miss Sunshine). An impromptu payback mission of their own yields a pick-up basketball game, a chance encounter and a sudden act of violence that kicks Weapons into its careening path toward implosion. If Noe had directed Kids, it would have looked, sounded and induced dark (and darkly comic) shudders like Lough's film.

"I was kind of disgusted by what had come out when I wrote the script," Lough said. "I can say that what's close to me in the movie are the details rather than the broad strokes; the way the characters walk, the way they talk, certain things they say, what they drink, what they smoke, how they fight -- that's details from my own life. The actual story and plot are not. What I do is just take the details from my life and put those into the script. One of my mentors at the Sundance lab told me God is in the details, which is, I think, the best advice I ever got out of the lab. If you can take the tiny little details that are real -- that feel really real to you -- and apply them into the movie, then that's what's of interest to me as a filmmaker. The broad strokes in the plot, I don't like it so much; sometimes I find it bothersome. But what's beautiful to me are the little details, and that was drawn from my personal experience and my life."

The details translate to manifold symbols of potential gone awry: Reggie's quest detours him from a must-have job interview; his exhortations to revenge take place in front of refrigerators plastered with photos of the lost innocents he and his friends once embodied. Or perhaps they didn't; the ambiguity of its tragedy is perhaps Weapons' most devastating quality.

Lough's talent is itself quite formidable, his camera seeming dislocated from its subjects yet seemingly the only record of their existence (it's no coincidence Dano's character tapes his exploits, and that his pivotal role is stitched into in the narrative via his own record-keeping) and his skill with actors hinting at a hands-off benevolence. "Adam's a really, really collaborative director," said Dano. "I think that makes him a joy for a the actors to work with because you feel like you're really a part of the creative experience and creating something kind of organic on the spot rather than being forced or pushed into something. It was intense and we were certainly focused, but it felt really good and it was a good time."

He can speak for himself. I can't get that burger joint out of my head.

Posted at January 19, 2007 11:32 PM

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