Battlestar: Galactica star Richard Hatch plays Haskell Edwards, a has-been film director and human shipwreck in Diminuendo, his final film before succumbing to pancreatic cancer in February, 2017. The film is screening at the 2018 Indy Film Fest at Newfields as part of the American Spectrum Features collection with screenings on Saturday, April 28th at 5:45pm inside The Toby and on Thursday, May 3rd at 5pm also inside The Toby.
The film centers around Hatch's washed out filmmaker, a once renowned filmmaker who has immersed himself in a drug and alcohol haze for the past nine years after witnessing the suicide of Cello Shea (Chloe Dykstra), an iconic actress and his girlfriend at the time of her death.
Having now long been considered irrelevant, Haskell is approached the the opportunity of a lifetime by a cutting edge tech company. Unfortunately for Haskell, that "opportunity" is to direct a film about Cello's life utilizing the company's technology that has created a lifelike robot called a LifeDoll that bears such an uncanny resemblance to Cello that Haskell's entire being is shaken to its core. This LifeDoll, called Number 8, mimics but doesn't understand nor reason yet has been created with such remarkable attention to detail that Haskell can't help but become increasingly obsessed with what appears to be nothing more than a remarkably constructed machine/programmed doppelganger.
Or is it?
Diminuendo is an ambitious, modestly budgeted scifi that serves as a poignant final cinematic note for Hatch, whose sickness was largely unrevealed while shooting but seemingly permeates every fiber of his performance of a man whose grief is unwavering and whose weariness can't help but dominate certain scenes in a way that is almost exhausting to watch.
Is this an insult? Maybe a little, but it's mostly intended to reflect the fact that Hatch's real life struggles are almost inevitably woven into the fabric of the film intended or not. It's well known that Hatch was able to see a rough cut of the film prior to his death, a true gift for an actor who had prided himself for years on never missing a day on the set and, indeed, even as he struggled with the pancreatic cancer he persevered until the every end as most attributed his struggles to stomach problems.
While Diminuendo is a poignant bookend and dramatic stretch for Hatch, it's not entirely a satisfying film. There's no question that D.P. Ben Hoffman crafts the film's hazy, washed out lensing in such a way to reflect Haskell's deteriorating mental state, yet often the film ends up feeling like a low-budget Inherent Vice but without that film's sharp editing and emotional variations. Much of Diminuendo has a melancholy tone to it, a tone heightened by Vitaly Zavadskyy's dramatic original music.
Hatch himself is perfectly fine here, though the film ultimately soars on the strength of Chloe Dykstra's exciting to watch and emotionally honest performances. She finds the little nuances here and adds depth to the dialogue co-written by Sarah Goldberger and Bryn Pryor.
Reviewing a film like Diminuendo is difficult, not because the film itself is difficult to review but because you know you're looking at the final work of an actor who has dedicated his entire adult life to his craft and who gave fully and completely of himself even until his final days. If anything, however, knowing that very thing makes Diminuendo an even more challenging view. While Diminuendo didn't work for this writer on the level I had hoped, fans of Richard Hatch would do well to take this one more cinematic journey with him and watch how the incredibly dedicated actor kept on challenging himself to stretch all the way through his final performance.
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© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic