Pickings is a little bit of everything you expect and a whole lotta the unexpected all wrapped up together inside the warped out skeleton of a unique cinematic experience that weaves together a neo-noirish crime saga and, of all things, a spaghetti western-inspired story that follows one Jo Lee Haywood (Elyse Price), a single mother and neighborhood bar owner who has spent years trying to escape her violent past only to see it come crawling its way up the front door in the form of an impulsive local mobster and his equally impulsive and demanding henchmen.
Written and directed by Usher Morgan, Pickings is an unusual beast of a film that is difficult to describe without giving away much of what makes the film an experience you're likely to either really, really love or find yourself sitting in your seat going "WTF?"
I lean toward the former myself.
Fresh off the success of his short film Prego, Morgan has crafted a film that sits on the polar opposite end of that comedy short. In this film, Price's Jo Lee is a woman determined to protect her family at any cost. We catch on that there's a whole lot of history here early on in the film when we watch as Elyse Price's Jo Lee goes completely apeshit with a man who may or may not survive the encounter. We learn what made her this way and we get bits and pieces that will eventually add up to an intriguing, involving story that should prove to be an audience pleaser when the film is released via the AMC Independent program on March 2nd.
While Morgan's script work here is mighty fine, the truth is that Pickings really soars on the strength of Elyse Price's compelling and laser sharp performance. There are pieces of the story here that don't reveal themselves right away, an absolute necessity if one is to really invest in the journey that's about to unfold. What's remarkable about Price's performance is that she draws us in to her world and keeps us hanging on even when we're not 100% sure where she fits into the equation.
Is she good? Is she bad? Is she both?
Price doesn't so much judge her character as simply live in her world and the film is much better for it.
Morgan has assembled a fine ensemble cast here including the aforementioned Holland, who dazzles in her time on screen, along with the immensely talented Katie Vincent, an oozing ball of vulnerable kick-assery, the grizzled and sizzling Joel Bernard and the rest of the ensemble.
Speaking of Katie Vincent, it would be impossible to speak highly enough of Vincent's stand-out original music here that companions the film through every tonal shift and every genre switch to absolute perfection. It's a spot-on perfect score and proof that someone in Hollywood needs to keep this woman busy creating beautiful music.
Louis Obioha's lensing is atmospheric and gritty, capturing the necessary shading of a noirish story while also playing with muted tones and earthy, impossible to shake colors that complement some of Morgan's other more unique and inspired artistic decisions that will go unrevealed here.
While Pickings may very well not resonate with non-indie fans given Morgan's unique choices and willingness to break down genre barriers, it's a film that should intrigue and entertain most indie devotees and those who can appreciate a unique voice telling a familiar story uniquely told. There's an emotional resonance that may be a tad surprising here, not just with the maternally rooted performance of Price but in those who are loyal to her and those who would try to destroy her.
Dark and gritty, fantastic and fun, Pickings is being released in theaters by Dark Passage FIlms and if you're in one of the cities lucky enough to get the film in theatrical release this is definitely an up-and-coming filmmaker that you'll really want to support with a film you'll really want to see.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic