A Beginner's Guide to Endings -- Film Review



"A Beginner's Guide to Endings," screenwriter Jonathan Sobol's debut as a director from his own script, is a dark comedy that doesn't convince you of its darkness and is never very funny. The most interesting thing about the movie is the seldom-used local of Niagara Falls, the Canadian filmmaker's hometown. Otherwise, it's a rocky homecoming.

Theatrical exposure beyond the festival circuit will be fleeting at best.

The movie follows misfit brothers in the days following their father's death. Convinced by a disclosure in his will that three of the brothers are facing imminent death, each reacts differently in a desperate quest to right wrongs, or at least end things on a happy note.

Dad (Harvey Keitel, in what looks like only a few days of filming) was a no-account gambler, who bet on everything including, apparently, his sons' health. Boxing promoter Nuts (Jason Jones in Frank Zappa facial hair) has already committed his younger brother Juicebox (Jared Keeso) to a one-sided boxing match. Learning a few things about his own past from their minister Uncle Pal (the always enjoyable JK Simmons), Nuts realizes the only way to save his brother is to sacrifice himself in the ring.

Cal (Scott Caan) tempts fate another way by grabbing the wedding ring he inherits from dad and looking up a lethal ex-girlfriend (Tricia Hilfer) to propose marriage. But first he has to get past a hulking boyfriend known as Big Mitch (James Preston Rogers).

Jacob (Paulo Costanzo) throws caution to the wind in drawing up a bucket list of dangerous things he must accomplish before dying. And, yes, going over Niagara Falls is among them. Along for the ride is his half brother Todd (Siam Yu).

Preposterous characters, absurd coincidences and strokes of fortune, good and bad, propel the narrative forward. The influence of Quentin Tarantino is felt is much of this pulpy mess, but without any of those flashes of brilliant dialogue or breathtaking sequences of suspense.

Indeed, most sequences fall flat. Others are just silly. Meanwhile, Keitel's occasional voiceover narration helps not in the least.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Darius Films
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Paulo Costanzo, Jason Jones, Scott Caan J.K. Simmons, Tricia Helfer, Siam Yu
Director/screenwriter: Jonathan Sobel
Producer: Nicholas Tabarrok
Executive producers: Bryan Gliserman, Sean Buckley, Tim Merkel, John Kozman
Director of photography: Samy Inayeh
Production designer: Svjetlana Jaklenec
Music: Grayson Matthews
Costume designer: Candice Beuckx
Editor: Geoff Ashenhurst
Sales: Sierra Pictures
No rating, 93 minutes