Kurt (Philip Lakin) is an expert car thief working for Larry (Mark DeMicco), a father figure who runs a chop shop disguised as a mechanic's garage. They have a good thing going, but things get threatened when Joe (Austin Meehan), a lowly mechanic tries to one-up Kurt in hopes of becoming a car thief himself. In the meantime, Kurt has taken an unexpected shine to Emilie (Kara Rosella) and her young, hearing impaired daughter, Claire (Rhyan O'Leary).
The bad news, I suppose, is that co-writer/director Nicholas J. DeMicco's Grafters didn't go anywhere I didn't expect it to go.
The good news?
It was still a whole lot of fun watching it get there.
There's almost no denying that Grafters feels like it has been made in hopes of funding a feature film, a fact that could easily work against it but really doesn't. While I have no idea if such is the case, DeMicco and co-writer Ryan D. Moore have crafted a compelling story with characters you sure wouldn't mind spending more time with at some point down the road.
The film is both dramatic and suspenseful. It's no easy task to build genuine suspense over the course of a 23-minute running time, but DeMicco has a terrific sense of pacing and he's cast the film incredibly well. Lakin reminded me a little bit of a darker Chris Pratt, which may sound weird given that we're talking about a dramatic short but it works nicely in building a character who must be believably romantic, convincingly caring toward a child, and equally as charismatic when it comes to his chosen profession. Lakin avoids caricatures and constructs Philip as a guy at a crossroads of sorts. He's good at what he does and he knows it, but he's also surprisingly drawn to a more domesticated life.
Austin Meehan is uncomfortably unhinged as Joe, whose drive to be a car thief isn't quite matched by his skill in actually being one. While he initially seems harmless enough, it doesn't take a whole lot of time until Meehan makes us realize that he has a whole lot more going on.
As Emilie, Kara Rosella gives the film a nice emotional resonance and Rhyan O'Leary, who picked up an award for Best Child Actress at the Atlantic City Cinfest, knocks it out of the ballpark as Claire. The film picked up a couple of other prizes at Atlantic City including Best Director of a Short Drama and Best Actor in a Short Drama. The film is also going to screen at this year's Short Film Festival at Cannes in May.
Steven Mastorelli's lensing taut and exciting, while Karel Antonin's original music builds the suspense without compromising the film's humanity.
Grafters is in many ways a good ole' fashioned dramatic thriller. While it features a fairly familiar story, what it lacks in originality it makes up for with nicely developed characters, strong performances, top notch production values and a compelling battle between redemption and reality.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic