From Arizona filmmaker Travis Mills comes The Detective’s Lover, an ode to film noir. The first time I encountered Mills was with The Big Something, the first feature from Running Wild Films. That picture shone with its indie work ethic and shoestring budget, using creativity and personality to tell the story and winning the audience over with its charm.
In the case of The Detective’s Lover, the budget is just as small (I think) and the indie work ethic is just as strong. The flick, however, is more ambitious and complex. Mills delivers noir this time out, sinking his film in black and white and offering aptly-stilted dialogue to distance the emotion from the violence, romance and mystery. In a way, this tactic works to envelop us in the environment. And in a way, this tactic doesn’t work as we struggle to make connections with the well-written characters.
Mills stars as Scott Miller, a journalist and writer tired of covering ostriches. He decides to pursue adventure in the dark streets of Phoenix and winds up interviewing a series of private detectives, looking for material to write a book. When Scott comes across Dave Goodman (Dean Veglia), everything changes.
Goodman connects Miller with John D (Rob Edwards), a hard-boiled detective with an eye for the ladies and a screwed-up family. Scott tails John D and eventually comes in contact with his lover, the stunning but dangerous Christine Appleton (Cara Nicole). To say this creates some problems would be an understatement, as the romantic entanglements enmesh Scott in a world of intrigue, gunfire and, yes, porn.
The plot is spirited and well-designed, arcing nicely away from the somewhat convoluted problems of Mills’ The Big Something. The storyline serves as a foundation for the exercise in noir, offering us one twist after another on the road to who knows where. Unfortunately, Mills’ ending leaves a lot to be desired and feels like somewhat of a cop-out when we discover the “real motives” of a critical character.
Mills’ visual style is certainly something worth checking out. He knows the streets he shoots on and has an eye for cool-looking destinations, offering us a cougar bar and a jazz club and a rundown motel in frames that sing with dankness, eeriness and sleek jazz cool. The use of black and white is delectable and clever, but more nighttime scenes would’ve served the shadowy plot to greater degree.
Where The Big Something was a light and comedic affair, The Detective’s Lover is a straightforward chunk of noir. It takes itself very seriously, sometimes a bit too seriously, and this can dampen the proceedings more than they need to be. The comedy that does arrive, in the form of an oddly-placed and unnecessary porn connection, seems forced and wooden.
Still, The Detective’s Lover is a fairly good motion picture. The film noir clichés are in play, although Mills only brushes over some of the most compelling. The relationship between Scott and Christine is suitably twisted, but it is only barely offset by the appearance of the “good girl” – a chipper Chelsea (Jess Bishop). Placing a little more pressure on Scott by way of a developing love triangle would’ve enhanced the character, but the issue is only hinted at.
All in all, The Detective’s Lover is about on par with The Big Something. Both films are enjoyable and smartly produced for their small budgets. Both films pack compelling potential and interesting characters. But both films stumble in execution somewhat and struggle to find rhythm, leaving some potential stones unturned and lacking that fine tuning that would’ve really sent things into overdrive.