'Already Gone': Film Review
'Side by Side' director Christopher Kenneally's first narrative feature is a road movie with two unlikely protagonists.
Christopher Kenneally, whose 2012 documentary Side by Side explored the impact of digital tools on the art of cinema, makes an analog-feeling feature debut with Already Gone, a road movie in which two friends try to escape a seedy existence in the shadow of Coney Island. (Keanu Reeves, that documentary's host, serves as executive producer here.) Sensitive and protective of its protagonist — a damaged teen harboring an unwise crush on his companion — the picture is not always convincing, but always respects his inchoate ambition, a sense that just about any ending will be preferable to where the boy is now.
Tyler Dean Flores plays the quiet Robbie, who lives with a man (Seann William Scott's Martin) we take to be the former boyfriend of a mother we assume has died. The dynamics of the household are presented sketchily if at all, but Martin appears now to be in a sort of relationship with Keesha (Justine Skye), a dancer at a local strip club. Robbie, who doesn't seem to have much of a social universe (does he not go to school?), has silently fixated on Keesha, and sneaks around her workplace to steal glimpses of her onstage. It's there that he overhears Martin talking with another man, attempting to arrange something sordid.
The amount of cash Martin keeps at home is proof that he's elbow-deep in illicit enterprise, but this may be his first attempt at pimping. Keesha recoils at the "party" he has set up for her, and, troubled by her distress, Robbie takes action — grabbing Martin's money and the girl, he flees the apartment and gets them across the Verrazzano Bridge. Staten Island isn't many people's idea of the promised land, but it won't be the first place Martin comes looking.
As the two teens form a loose plan to head toward California, one is puzzlingly more motivated than the other. Despite his adolescent moodiness, Robbie is serious about putting a few states between them and their pursuer; Keesha, flirty and flighty as she treats that money like a toy, is less convincing. But the pair manage to steal a couple of cars, evade arrest and sneak their way to a rural spot in the West where they feel safe enough to catch their breath. (Viewers may wish Robbie, an aspiring graffiti artist, would stop scrawling his trademark dolphin on windows and bathroom mirrors at each stop, leaving a breadcrumb trail for anyone who might pursue them.)
They pause at a motor court attached to a Mexican restaurant, where Robbie befriends one of the owners. Drawn to a mural that Edwin (Shiloh Fernandez) is working on in hopes that it will attract customers, he lets his guard down, accepting some generosity from Edwin's sisters and grandmother (Maga Uzo), the restaurant's head cook. But if the warmth of strangers' hospitality feels like a refuge, sharing a room with Keesha is going to make him finally address the feelings he hasn't been willing to give voice to.
The film, which shares Robbie's inarticulate restlessness, doesn't sit comfortably in the road-movie template despite hitting many of its dramatic beats. It doesn't intend to forget about the danger Martin represents, but it also doesn't translate that into storytelling momentum, and sometimes lags despite the stakes its characters face. The plot does, finally, allow the emotions Robbie won't express to erupt in a way that threatens everything, and Kenneally's script deals knowingly with the aftermath. But it doesn't always seem to understand the characters around its hero any better than he does himself.
Production companies: RainMaker Films, Yale Productions
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Tyler Dean Flores, Justine Skye, Shiloh Fernandez, Seann William Scott, Raquel Castro, Maga Uzo
Director-screenwriter: Christopher Kenneally
Producers: Jordan Beckerman, Robyn K. Bennett, Shruti Ganguly, Jordan Yale Levine
Executive producers: Jim Klock, Clay Pecorin, Keanu Reeves
Director of photography: Spenser T. Nottage
Production designer: Caley Bisson
Costume designer: Annie Simon
Editor: Ron Dulin
Composer: Brendan Ryan
Casting director: Caroline Sinclair