Turn the River

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A strong central performance by Famke Janssen and an interesting feminist twist on a familiar genre are the distinguishing traits of "Turn the River." The directorial and screenwriting debut of actor Chris Eigeman, this low-budget film about a female pool hustler has an interesting grittiness that makes up for its narrative cliches.

Janssen plays Kailey, who plies her trade at an upstate New York pool hall run by her aging mentor (Rip Torn). The mother of an 11-year-old son (Jaymie Dornan) who is now living with his alcoholic father (Matt Ross) and his new wife (Marin Hinkle), Kailey finds herself in desperate need of $50,000 in order to purchase the fake passports necessary to spirit him away to Canada.

Much of the film's running time is spent depicting Kailey's relationship with her sensitive son, with Janssen conveying both the toughness necessary for her dangerous trade -- at one point she gets beaten up by one of her intended marks -- and the tenderness of a loving mother wracked by guilt.

Eigeman skillfully depicts the seedy milieu of his Kailey's profession and displays a keen facility for drawing pungent performances from his actors. Besides Janssen's excellent work, there are also memorable if brief supporting turns by Torn, whom the film could have used more of; Terry Kinney, as a sleazy counterfeiter; and Lois Smith, as Kailey's domineering ex-mother-in-law.
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