[Review by Kenneth Szeto]
Dead Bullet is an independent film directed and written by Erik Reese and produced by the Sabi Company. It’s a bit of new spin on the casino/crime film by telling the story of a down-on-his-luck man who is thrown into a situation beyond his comprehension, a situation that snowballs into tragedy.
After spending the last of his money at a Las Vegans casino, Bill Holden (John T. Woods) is caught up in a robbery and hijacked. He’s soon killed a robber in self-defence and finds himself in possession of thousands of dollars in cash and casino chips. Unsure of what to do, Bill opts to sell the chips to a dealer in the hope of earning some extra money. Of course, that plan goes awry, leaving him on a mission to clean up this mess while being chased by both the Las Vegas underground and his conscience.
Dead Bullet does things differently, portraying the characters as actual human beings, instead of the usual character tropes associated with casino/gambling thrillers. Bill is beyond a professional heist man, but make no mistake: he has no idea what he’s doing. He’s forced into a crime with no knowledge about what’s happening and his actions end up involving those around him. He’s also indecisive, struggling with greed versus doing the right thing. It’s clear, he has history with these activities, but this time he’s ready and willing to right himself. The antagonists also provide welcome layers as the narrative progresses, starting off with a strictly business mindset and slowly having their actions dictated by their emotions.
Despite the story being straightforward and moving on a tight running time of 90 minutes, there are a few pacing issues. The film is very quiet, preferring to let the viewer take in the atmosphere and gravity of Bill’s situation. While the point may have been to create further dramatic tension, the decrease in tempo on occasion hurts the film; one too many moments where the plot threatens to hit a standstill or conversations are dragged out. Also, some scenes are obviously gratuitous in their content, with an ex-lover sub-plot thrown in for good measure. To be clear, Dead Bullet is by no means a bad story, but it stumbles in the execution at times.
Joshua Nitschke’s cinematography is a standout, framing the Nevada desert as a harsh, unforgiving place, helping to emphasise how dire Bill’s situation is. There aren’t too many high-tense action scenes, so the film instead relies on suspense to create tangible tension. The camera work is very effective, capturing the subtlest of expressions and holding an impressive focus on emotional impact. Aside from a few lighting issues, the film’s cinematography is remarkable.
Dead Bullet is an overall impressive film with a well-developed, character-driven story and stunning presentation. The pacing and certain aspects of the plot do hold up minor issues, but they’re ultimately not deal-breakers. If you’re in the mood for a well-crafted crime-drama that isn’t overly loud, be sure to check this out.