Two brothers and a childhood friend end up involved in a tragic twist of events during a botched robbery attempt. Here is our review of writer-director Josh Pierson’s darkly comic neo-noir, Where Sleeping Dogs Lie.
There is a moment in Josh Pierson’s Where Sleeping Dogs Lie that tells you exactly what type of film you are watching. The moment comes around 20 minutes into the movie and it involves somebody’s toe. It’s pure Tarantino and it raises a laugh, not just because of the situation, but also because of the familiarity. There are a lot of moments like this in the film and they all add up to make one hugely enjoyable viewing experience with some stand-out performances, many quotable lines, and some well-choreographed slapstick inspired set pieces.
The movie opens on the character of Jeff as he sits in a greasy spoon café drinking coffee, eating a fried breakfast, and conversationally swearing at those who would care to listen. The main target of his ire is the waitress who serves him. Jeff is coarse, vulgar, and cynical who comes across as a nasty piece of work. Played by Jesse Janzen, Jeff’s saving Grace is his sardonic sense of humour; his opening speech about obesity is quite amusing and manages to endear this nasty character to us. Then as we learn that Jeff owes a lot of money to a gangster and only has a few days to pay it back, we are on more familiar noir territory. Janzen’s delivery of Jeff’s dialogue is wickedly cutting but it is the great writing from director Pierson that is the star of this show.
Having already mined some Tarantino-like gold with the opening salvo he continues digging for Quentin by cutting between the crime scene and flashbacks to his character’s lives before the crime takes place. One of these flashbacks involves a cheating husband named Bob, played by David J Espinosa, talking to his sleazy lawyer about how to stop his wife from taking him to the cleaners in a forthcoming divorce case. This scene raises a grin as it takes place in another café, becoming a direct throwback to the Pacino and DeNiro chat in Heat, while also giving us an additional character we love to hate. Another scene involves Jeff’s friend Barry who, in a nod to the Coen Brothers classic Fargo, is a failing car salesman in need of a break, while we also see Jeff’s life away from crime and his strained relationship with his stripper girlfriend. Other flashbacks show us how Jeff manages to rope his friends and family into his crazy yet extremely desperate scheme and how he formulates his plan.
The bulk of the movie takes place at Bob’s elegant home while Jeff and his gang are looting the place. Having been captured, tied up, and gagged, Bob remains an onlooker to the chaos on show as Jeff’s ‘gang’ search aimlessly for the money they believe is hidden. The gang is totally unprepared, unprofessional, and completely out of their depth. As the crime unfolds desperation creeps in and everything that could go wrong does go wrong and we are suddenly thrown into different comedic situations that you would expect to see the Three Stooges or The Marx Brothers involved in except with more blood and swear words.
The locations of the movie are mainly internal, with most scenes situated inside buildings, so the cinematography by Geoff Foley and Tony Marsh remains quite simple; there are close-ups and two shots that help us to understand our character’s motives and feelings, with handheld and steady-cam shots giving a bit of dynamism to proceedings. The whiteness of Bob’s home contrasts brilliantly with the darkness of Jeff and his gang’s black balaclavas and clothing, while every moment of shock and guilt can be found etched onto the faces of our criminals.
Despite it’s obvious debt to 90’s thrillers, Where Sleeping Dogs Lie is a successful movie on its own terms. It’s has a lot of spirit and audacity but also a lot of contrivances, however, it is funny, always energetic and shows that Josh Pierson can indeed write and direct. He is a talent we would do well to keep an eye on, Where Sleeping Dogs Lie is definitely one to watch.