It was hard to watch Nicky, a tremendous 32-minute short film from director Dom Portolla based upon a short story by the film's lead Ken Flott. There are films that dance too closely to your own psyche' and your own life experiences that to watch them is like ripping open the wounds from years' past and picking away at the scabs.
I needed to watch it, though, and not just because Portolla had contacted The Independent Critic asking for a review. I've said "No" before, and I'm pretty sure I'll say "No" again. This time, I couldn't say "No."
Nicky centers around an anonymous man (Flott) known only as The Narrator in the credits and whose identity is basically irrelevant because it has been swallowed up in a tragedy that consumed a good majority of his adult life and the lives of those who have tried to love him. It has been years since his little brother, Nicky, was kidnapped and disappeared without a trace, an event that occurred on our protagonist's first wedding day and an event that has defined every day in his life since.
Consumed by the idea of discovering what happened to his little brother, The Narrator has gone through two marriages while keeping the rest of the world at bay.
Nothing else matters.
Now, with the help of an underground network he has discovered the truth and he's prepared to exact revenge for his little brother and for himself.
Forgiveness? Not in this case. It's not an option. In this case, there is only one way that justice will be served.
There are a couple of ways that Nicky could have unfolded that would have turned the film into nothing but another exploitative, bloodthirsty action flick. Portalla could have simply focused on the act that led to Nicky's disappearance, a traumatic event that is really only briefly glimpsed. This may have upped the film's drama, but it also would have given the film a structure it doesn't need rather than the remarkably haunting psychological suspense it possesses.
Alternately, Portalla could have simply focused more time and energy on the events that unfold once The Narrator learns the truth. While these scenes are harrowing, Portalla does a wonderful job of not forgetting that the film is ultimately about The Narrator and the lasting, life-changing impact of his complicated grief and unresolved trauma.
Again, Portalla and Flott have chosen wisely and the result is a film that unfolds patiently and with an emotional resonance that you won't easily shake even after you've left the theater.
If you're like me, a parent who has lost a child at the hands of another, in my case my late wife, Nicky is a film that will trigger your memories or flashbacks while challenging you to examine what you would do if given the chance to exact a semblance of revenge.
Would I forgive?
Would I seek "an eye for an eye?"
The truth is I don't really know.
As much as I myself have always leaned towards forgiveness, Portalla and Flott do a terrific job of creating a story that doesn't feel right or wrong. The Narrator is living out his story and acting in the only way that he can in order to make peace with himself and peace with the past. Is it the right choice? Is it possible to make the right choice in this circumstance?
As The Narrator, Flott gives a compelling and unforgettable performance that is simultaneously sympathetic and a wee bit disturbing. He gets our sympathy, I think, because for him this is so clearly not an easy choice but, perhaps, an only choice. We may not agree with the choices he's making, but we understand them and we care about him. Flott's is a tremendous performance that is complex precisely because it is so very simple.
The supporting players are strong, as well, though the film is truly Flott's and he makes the most of it. Charles Everett Tacker, as young Nicky, and Marianne Bayard are particularly compelling in relatively brief appearances. Portalla handles the lensing for the film, and he does so with a terrific eye towards maximum emotional impact. The camera doesn't simply follow the story, but it seems to dwell inside the characters giving us an intimacy that makes everything that much more haunting. Danielle Samson's original music is stellar, a perfect companion for the short film that speaks volumes when no words are being spoken.
It was evident from point one that Nicky was meant to have a strong social impact as Portalla and his cast/crew donated 10% of the proceeds raised from Indiegogo to the magnificent organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). The film is already proving to be quite popular on the film fest circuit and if you get a chance, you should definitely check it out.
Again, I do give a bit of a caution to abuse/trauma survivors that the film definitely has a potential to trigger and if you're going to check it out I'd recommend having a safe person with you to help process the film's powerful story and meaningful points for discussion.