aka Daughter of God; Wisdom
D: Declan Dale / 102m
Cast: Ana de Armas, Keanu Reeves, Christopher McDonald, Mira Sorvino, Big Daddy Kane, Venus Ariel, Gabriel Vargas, Melissa Linton, Michael Rispoli
Hands up anyone who’s heard of Declan Dale. Maybe you’ve seen his last movie. Well, actually, you couldn’t have because Declan Dale doesn’t exist, he’s the pseudonym of writer/director Gee Malik Linton, Exposed‘s director when it was called Daughter of God, and when it didn’t try to be two movies at the same time. Thanks to the intervention of distributor Lionsgate – who thought they were getting a gritty police drama starring Keanu Reeves – Linton’s stark, character-driven bi-lingual drama focusing on child abuse and violence towards women was emasculated, and the movie became a sluggish crime thriller instead (just watch the trailer below to see how determined Lionsgate were to make Exposed seem like an exciting, must-see thriller).
The result is astonishingly bad. In its current form, Exposed has the potential of being one of the year’s worst movies, a terrible disaster brought about, not by one of the production companies involved, but by a distributor who thought it knew better. In downplaying Isabel’s story in favour of Galban’s glum search for his partner’s killer, the less than competent folks at Lionsgate have made a potentially absorbing, surrealist drama into a muddled snoozefest that clumps along like an amputee getting used to a badly fitting prosthesis. Again, the result is astonishingly bad – really, seriously, completely, astonishingly, bad.
It’s hard to believe, but the movie’s editor, Melody London, has a great track record. She’s worked with Jim Jarmusch on movies such as Down by Law (1986) and Mystery Train (1989), and contributed greatly to the success of documentaries such as Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry (2004) and Apache 8 (2011). With that in mind, it’s hard to understand just how wretchedly Exposed has been stitched together, and just how deluded the “good” folks at Lionsgate were when they came to giving London their feedback on how to “improve” the movie’s chances at the box office. Because ultimately that was Lionsgate’s fear: that Linton’s original version, Daughter of God, would fail to make a dent at the box office. They were actively saying to Linton, this movie will sink without trace unless we intervene.
Well, hubris is a wonderful thing – except when it’s unfounded. Exposed has been released in eight countries at time of writing, and while exact figures aren’t available, the movie appears to have made only $205,703 worldwide (it made just $122 in the UK, while US returns haven’t even been revealed). If anyone at Lionsgate is still trying to say they did the right thing, then any production companies planning to let them distribute their latest feature, should turn around and run as far away as possible in the opposite direction.
So just how bad is Exposed? It’s astonishingly bad (but we’ve established that). Why is it so bad? Here are just three examples (there could have been more but this review has to end at some point): Detective Galban (Reeves) is allowed to investigate the death of his partner, Cullen, even though he’s still grieving over the loss of his wife; when it becomes clear that his partner was corrupt, Galban is warned off the investigation by his boss, Lieutenant Galway (McDonald), in order to avoid Cullen’s wife, Janine (Sorvino), losing out on his pension rights; and when Janine is informed that her husband’s death isn’t going to be investigated, she’s incensed – until the next scene where she attempts to seduce Galban while also admitting that Cullen was as crooked as everyone said.
What investigation there is – Janine insists her husband’s murderer is caught – depends on photos found on a camera at the murder scene. In them, there are several Latinos, including Manuel de La Cruz (Vargas) and his sister-in-law, Isabel (de Armas). Manuel seems to be focus of Cullen’s surveillance, and when the other people in the pictures start turning up dead, the main suspect in their deaths, and Cullen’s, is local crime boss Jonathan “Black” Jones (Kane). He denies any involvement but Galban is convinced he’s guilty. All Galban really knows for sure is that the girl in the photos is probably the key to everything. But Galban is such a terrible detective that he can’t even track her down, even though it should be easy.
Meanwhile, Isabel has problems of her own. On the night that Cullen was killed (and on the same subway platform) she has a vision: an albino man who walks on air above the tracks. With her husband away in Iraq, and living with her devout in-laws, Isabel’s faith is challenged when she begins seeing another strange being. She comes to believe that God has a plan for her, and that these beings she’s seeing are angels. But when her husband is killed and she later discovers that she’s pregnant, her in-laws disown her, despite her saying it’s a miracle (her husband was in Iraq for over a year). Ostracised, she turns her attention to a little girl, Elisa (Ariel), who appears to be suffering abuse at the hands of her father. This leads to a tragedy that reveals the reason for her pregnancy, and explains much of what happened the night that Cullen died.
In essence, there are two very different stories here, and they clash with each other at every turn. Galban’s investigation goes nowhere, partly because he’s apparently useless at his job (at one point he whinges that “nobody’s talking”), and partly because the revised storyline doesn’t know what to do with him. Reeves is a producer on the movie; one would have thought he would have more input into how the character is presented, but it’s soon obvious he either didn’t have as much clout as you’d expect, or he realised early on that, once Lionsgate got their hands on the movie, it was all over bar the crying. Either way, Reeves gives one of the most lethargic, barely involved performances of his career. For everyone who thought he’d turned his career slump around with John Wick (2014), think again. This and Knock Knock (2015) are clear indicators that John Wick was an unexpected blip on the radar.
de Armas has the better, more developed role, and she’s very effective in an emotionally confused, gamine kind of way, but as Isabel’s story takes her to some very dark places indeed, the actress’s performance is undervalued by the arbitrary twists and turns of Lionsgate’s re-edit. There are moments when the power of Linton’s original cut is able to shine through, notably in the sequences with the angels, and later as we realise just how fragile Isabel’s grip on reality really is. But there are long stretches where her story sits there like a stalled car, and as with Galban’s story, this version of her story doesn’t always know how to move forward without looking and feeling clumsy (and which it never comes close to overcoming).
At least there is some closure to Isabel’s story, even if it is rushed and overly melodramatic. Other characters come and go without the viewer even realising, and there’s a confrontation between Manuel and “Black” Jones that comes out of nowhere and then returns there as soon as it’s done. But by the time this encounter pops up the average viewer will be checking their watch and wondering just how longer this farrago has got to go. There are just so many wretchedly glum and dispiriting scenes that have come before, suspended moments that lack resonance or emotion, for anyone to really care how it all turns out. And when it finally does, the only reaction left to the viewer who’s got that far is relief.
Rating: 3/10 – a spectacular misfire of a movie, Exposed is so bad that William Goldman’s classic quote, “In Hollywood, nobody knows anything”, should have the qualifier, “especially Lionsgate” added to it; let’s hope that Linton’s original cut eventually sees the light of day, and this dull, leaden, dreary mess can be consigned to the cinematic landfill where it belongs.