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Jordan Ross’ debut feature Thumper proves timely in its depiction of an economically ravaged suburban California community whose young people have increasingly turned to drugs. Unfortunately, the film, receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, turns out to be a routine crime-driven tale featuring all-too familiar characters and situations. The hand of executive producer Cary Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) is evident in the gritty, atmospheric tension permeating the proceedings, but Thumper fails to overcome its numerous clichés.
The storyline revolves around Kat (Eliza Taylor), a new student at a high school in a town that’s clearly seen better days. Among her classmates is the soft-spoken Beaver (Daniel Webber), who persists in his romantic advances until she finally agrees to go out with him. It turns out that they’re both harboring secrets: Beaver has started working for Wyatt (Pablo Schreiber), the local drug dealer whose violent temper indicates that he’ll stop at nothing to preserve his small-time criminal empire, while Kat is an undercover cop looking to get to the bottom of the drug plague sweeping the area.
You can pretty much guess the rest, with director/screenwriter Ross tightening the narrative screws as Kat finds herself drawn to Beaver despite the inherent dangers and struggling to maintain her cover as Wyatt becomes increasingly suspicious. Things come to a head when she suffers an overdose after being forced to partake of Wyatt’s wares, resulting in a violent denouement.
Although she’s a talented, vivacious performer, Taylor (The CW’s The 100) isn’t remotely convincing as a cop dealing with professional and personal issues, including her young son’s intensifying emotional connection to her ex-husband’s new squeeze. It doesn’t help that her character’s misery is conveyed by her forlornly eating a microwaved dinner alone and sobbing quietly while taking a bath.
Schreiber, sporting the shaved head and array of tattoos apparently required to portray a lowlife, delivers a suitably intense and charismatic performance. But you can feel the calculation in such scenes as when his character, after being told that his insurance will no longer pay for his anti-anxiety medications, has a meltdown at a pharmacy and screams about the injustice being inflicted on war veterans. Webber, an Australian actor who reveals no trace of an accent here, fares best despite having the least flashy role, movingly underplaying as the guilt-ridden Beaver. Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) also shows up for a few brief appearances as Kat’s predictably hard-boiled boss.
Production companies: Exhibit, Automatik Entertainment, Parliament of Owls
Cast: Eliza Taylor, Lena Headey, Pablo Schreiber, Ben Feldman, Daniel Webber, Grant Harvey
Director-screenwriter: Jordan Ross
Producers: Fernando Loureiro, Roberto Vasconcellos
Executive producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Rian Cahill, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Matt Michonovetz, Marcos Tellechea, Paula Linhares
Director of photography: Doug Emmett
Production designer: Paul Luther Jackson
Editor: Byron Wong
Costume designer: Laura Frecon
Composer: Pedro Bromfaman
Casting: Jessica Sherman
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
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