Marcus (Owen Miller) has always been his own worst enemy.
We were first introduced to Marcus in 2018, writer/director J.R. Poli's award-winning short film of the same name breathing life into this man struggling to make major life decisions and to escape the cycles of a life and of a mind that have always told him half-truths and trauma-tainted realities. The film picked up a slew of fest awards before arriving here in Indy at the 2018 Indy Film Fest among other stops.
It seemed inevitable that we'd end up spending more time with Marcus.
So, it's not particularly surprising that the feature film Marcus has arrived, again written and directed by J.R. Poli and again starring Owen Miller as a character he was born to play. Having had its world premiere at March's Miami Film Festival, Marcus has seen its festival journey put on hold by a nasty little virus and that virus's impact on anything resembling social gathering.
Somehow, it seems incredibly appropriate.
In this film, Marcus still owns his checkered past but this time around we learn more about that journey and where it's going to take him. This time around, Marcus gets unexpected news that opens the door to an unexpected opportunity to make amends for bad choices and to, at least in some tangible ways, try to make things right.
We all know that's not easy, though, and it's not easy for Marcus. Marcus isn't some Hallmark Channel film where you turn the corner and suddenly everything is okay again. Marcus is more honest. It's grittier. J.R. Poli has a hell of a lot more integrity to himself, to his film, and to Marcus.
If he's going to turn all this around, Marcus may very well have to make peace with his greatest obstacle of all - himself.
There's a stoic earthiness to Owen Miller's Marcus that makes you believe in him from the first time you seen him on the big screen. There's something incredibly honest about him, a naturalness that feels primal and raw and jarringly vulnerable. Films that delve into the world of mental health without going completely histrionic are rare, but with this film first-time feature film director Poli has crafted a film that rarely settles for the easy emotion but instead lingers in search of deeper truths and anti-stereotypes.
Much as was true for the Marcus short, Marcus is an often introspective and reflective short that captures the inner journey of the man and the world that surrounds him both with all its potential and all its hindrances. While there's much drama to be found here, much of the true power of Marcus lies in its quieter moments and the mundane moments between characters and the ways in which Matt Greene's lensing just sort of rests itself amidst the words that hang in the air between characters. Jesus E.P. allows these moments to uncomfortably exist, editing the film to allow a character's discomfort to become our own discomfort and, at times, exhilaration.
While Owen Miller's Marcus is at the center of everything that unfolds here, Miller is surrounded by a terrific ensemble cast that performs ably, intuitively, and with tremendous intelligence. Katana Malone shines brightly as Gaby, Paul Wight is memorable as Gus, Todd Bruno once again is wonderful as Matt opposite Jennifer Lynn Sharp's equally wonderful turn as Becka, and one can't help but mention effective appearances by a couple of Poli kids - Greyson W. Poli and Zoey Lynn Poli.
There are others, of course, including Don-Dimitri Joseph and Keldrick Mobley who both also return from the short film.
Marcus is a memorable film about a man whose presence you couldn't help but remember from his original introduction to our lives in the award-winning short. Marcus the feature film, despite a temporary interruption due to this global pandemic, seems destined to continue Marcus's award-winning ways. With festival submissions continuing, Marcus is a film to watch for if it arrives at a fest near you and as the nation faces a wave of trauma recovery following these weeks and months of COVID-19.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic