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D: Justin Donnelly / 105m

Cast: Luke Goss, Tyler Johnston, Jeffrey Ballard, Michael Eklund, Erica Carroll, Craig Stanghetta

When affluent sales executive Brian (Goss) is let go from his job, the childhood trauma he experienced when his father had to declare himself bankrupt, stops him from telling his wife Leanne (Carroll), and soon puts him on the path to contemplating desperate measures.  These arise from a chance encounter with an old schoolmate, Jimmy (Eklund).  Jimmy persuades Brian to go in with him on a quick fire money-making scheme that – so Brian believes – will enable him to stave off his immediate financial problems and also give him time to find another job.  Meanwhile, teen Jesse (Johnston) is looking to get out of town and make something of his life.  He seeks help from his friend Sam (Ballard).  Soon enough, Jesse and Brian cross paths and find their lives are on the line, as Jimmy’s get-rich-quick scheme goes horribly wrong for both of them.

Pressed - scene

Written and directed by first-timer Donnelly, Pressed benefits most from a committed performance by Goss, and by Donnelly’s attempts to try something different in an already over-stuffed genre.  At first, Goss plays Brian as a naive bystander in his own life, and while this isn’t necessarily the first description you’d apply to an actor like Goss, he pulls off these early scenes with sweaty conviction.  As the movie continues and he has to “man up”, Goss shows Brian’s transition from mild-mannered businessman to determined protagonist with clarity and conviction.

In the director’s chair, Donnelly orchestrates with a (largely) sure hand, allowing his script to play out unhurriedly, and with a greater focus on characterisation than is usual for this type of movie.  A strong case in point is the character of Jimmy, played with brio by Eklund.  Jimmy is a perfect example of how a stereotypical role can be imbued with enough additional nuances to overcome any expected deficiencies.  When Eklund is on screen, his portrayal is so effective you can’t keep your eyes off him.

Where Donnelly does falter is with the movie’s timescale.  When Brian arrives home after being laid off, Leanne and their young son (Ethan Sawyer) are going on holiday for a week.  As the story unfolds it’s clear that events are happening after this period should be up, and yet they don’t return home.  Also, Brian has his car repossessed within a couple of days of being let go – is that really likely?  Against this, Donnelly’s script does avoid the usual cliches, and even finds time for Brian to provide Jesse with some fatherly advice, albeit in the unlikeliest of circumstances.  And the final scenes allow for a pleasing ambiguity.

As the two teens caught up in Brian’s problems, Johnston and Ballard provide strong performances.  Johnston imbues Jesse with a vulnerability that is never at odds with his outwardly tough manner, and is a name to watch out for (though he does have extensive experience in television).  Ballard acquits himself with equal distinction, taking a less showy character in comparison to Jesse, but making him just as memorable.

The action, when it happens, is well choreographed, and the photography by Norm Li – while occasionally lax in terms of framing – has a gritty feel to it, matching the increasingly fervid atmosphere.  The final showdown is tenser than expected, and doesn’t cheat the viewer, giving Brian the chance to make things right on more than a personal level, and convincingly draw the movie to an end.

Rating: 6/10 – the too familiar mise-en-scene detracts from the all-round effectiveness of Donnelly’s debut but it maintains a grim credibility thanks largely to Goss’s well-judged performance; careful plotting gives it an edge over many of its contemporaries.

Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.