"Shade of Grey" is NOT "Crash."
It may be tempting to refer to writer/director Jakob Bilinski's film as being along the same lines as the Oscar-winning "Crash."
It would be incorrect.
"Shade of Grey" does follow, quite intimately, the lives of a seemingly disconnected group of people whose lives are, in fact, connected through their familiarity with Room 123.
You know the room. It's your typical dive motel room on what feels like the rough part of town. The room has seen its share of dramas and traumas, joys and sorrows.
Room 123 has seen it all.
Whether they realize it or not, the people whose lives have been forever changed in Room 123 are undeniably connected through it all.
Hoosier filmmaker Jakob Bilinski states on the film's website that "Shade of Grey" is "about family, the complicated and fractured ties that exist as people try to forge that definition. It's about the overwhelmingly necessary and potentially destructive power of love."
Ah yes, it is.
The beauty of "Shade of Grey" lies in the authentic nature and intelligence of Bilinski's script, coupled with a distinct visual style that is, at times, so mesmerizing that one completely forgets about the performances and simply watches mesmerized at the screen.
While Bilinski's script is stellar and his cinematography frequently transcends the film's modest budget, "Shade of Grey" is most hindered by an ensemble cast that is rather hit-and-miss.
We are initially introduced to newlyweds Evan (Scott Ganyo) and Samantha (Katelyn Coyne), a sweet and innocent couple seemingly so in love. Yet, by the time the two return for an anniversary visit several years later it becomes clear that the years have not been kind to Evan and Samantha and, not surprisingly, Evan soon returns with his mistress (Jennifer Berkemeier).
Bryan (Ben Schmitt) and Sarah (Monica Barajas) are yet another set of star-crossed lovers who first meet in the room as they make love for the first time returning when Sarah becomes pregnant and, finally, an ill-fated return for Bryan occurs in a drug deal gone awry.
It is, in fact, the drug deal scene that is the film's highlight largely on the strength of Schmitt's intense performance and a film-stealing turn by Jomar "Dez" Banks as the ruthless drug dealer.
There are, of course, other storylines woven into the fabric of "Shade of Grey," and Bilinski blends them all together seamlessly until the final, powerful closing scene of the film that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
Given the film's modest budget, it's not surprising that not every aspect of "Shade of Grey" works. To Bilinski's credit, there's no true "weak link" in the cast though certain scenes do ring a tad flat and uninvolving.
Particularly strong performances are turned in by Jomar "Dez" Banks, as noted previously, along with Ben Schmitt, Katelyn Coyne and Monica Barajas.
Chris Wilkerson's cinematography is remarkably strong, especially given the film's modest budget. In one dimly lit scene, Evan and Samantha have returned to Room 123 after several years of marriage. Rather than create a sense of "light," Bilinski and Wilkerson allow the shadows of the characters to hold the screen. While this may very well have been as much a budget decision as it was an artistic one, the scene unfolds so much more powerfully in this fashion.
Christopher John De Mory's original score adds a final, mood-enhancing touch serving as the perfect complement to each storyline contained within the film.
While "Shade of Grey" may not be a perfect film, it's a solid effort from writer/director Jakob Bilinski and a wonderful example of how creativity, talent and hard work can turn the lowest budget film into an infinitely watchable, entertaining and involving cinematic feature.
For more information on "Shade of Grey," visit the film's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic