Will Vaughn (Chris Fornataro) is a machine.
The top high school football recruit in the country, Will is known for his obsessive discipline and an impenetrable focus. However, when a new kid in town effortlessly beats him in a race he is forced to choose between making a friend and crushing his competition.
At 13 minutes, Will "The Machine" is a candid, gripping portrait of a young man obsessed with excellence and a relentless determination to be the absolute best. Yet, he's also a young man whose facade looks and feels conflicted and it's never quite clear if he's simply high-strung under the stress of constant recruitment letters or if there's something else, something more going on inside him.
Will is portrayed by Chris Fornataro, a former USC running back whose performance in the indie title Bad is Bad led Film Threat to call him "a name to remember" and, indeed, Will "The Machine" only further cements that statement. Fornataro, who co-write the film's script with director Kent Lamm, beautifully portrays the emotional complexities of a top performing high school football star with emotional baggage. It's a performance that comes alive against the backdrop of the film's host city of Richmond, Virginia.
As the new kid in town, Denzel Whitaker (Black Panther, Training Day) scores a touchdown with a performance that is intuitive, insightful, and provides the film an emotional touchpoint that makes everything that unfolds between he and Fornatoro's Will that much more meaningful. Whitaker's Joe Walker is, it would seem, perceived as a threat to Will's dominance yet what Whitaker captures so beautifully is that Joe Walker is simply Joe Walker.
Lamm's direction wisely avoids portraying Will as necessarily "troubled," a depth of emotional baggage that would have turned the film into something else entirely. There's a difference between having emotional baggage and being truly troubled and Lamm seems to get that. Will "The Machine" captures just the right tone for both characters and everything that unfolds for them, especially in the film's closing scenes.
Matt Hutchinson's original music fits the unfolding story quite nicely, while Jeff Tomcho's lensing captures both the beauty of a conflicted Richmond, Virginia and the complexities of both the city and its beloved high school athlete personified by Will.
After a successful festival run, Will "The Machine" has been released online and is definitely worth your time.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic