Director Harley Wallen Delivers an Offbeat and Clever Action-Thriller in “Abstruse”

There’s a neat moment early in the 117 minute running time of writer-director Harley Wallen’s thriller Abstruse where veteran actor Tom Sizemore’s character Max London has an emotional meeting with his daughter Amanda while serving out the remaining stitch in a jail sentence. They say that acting – good acting – is all about what goes on in a person’s eyes. These windows into the human soul, when placed with just the right actor, serve as deep pools of emotion that can convey so many things: Longing, regret, sorrow, love. And watching the father-daughter rapport between Sizemore, a grizzled and knowing Hollywood veteran, and fresh on the scene actor Kaiti Wallen is one of the most heartbreaking and – alternately – warm and loving bits ever caught on camera. You can literally read a mountain of emotions in Sizemore’s eyes; he’s at once hopeful and deeply ashamed as the elder London and his emotions dance wildly from deep, dark fire to serene, at-peace coolness, all within a matter of moments. It’s this gift of conveyance that has long distinguished Mr. Sizemore as one of the best actors of his generation. To borrow a line from actor Richard Young in Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “You got heart, kid…” Yes, he most certainly does.

 This meeting between father and daughter comes about twenty minutes into Abstruse and serves as the real jump-starter for the story. Prior to that, we meet Justin Stevens (actor Kris Reilly, appropriately creepy and smarmy), the son of a U.S. Senator (the revelatory Dennis Haskins, delightfully breaking type and chewing up a role as the sort of politician we see on our television set every day). Justin has some serious issues. As devilishly portrayed by Reilly, Justin is your classic playboy sociopath headed down a one-way street to disaster, taking anyone who gets in his way along for the frightening ride.

 One of the themes in a Harley Wallen film is the theory of intersection and how the smallest of things can send people hurling full-tilt boogie toward one another, with both disastrous and benign outcomes. Such is the case here when Amanda London and her gal-pal Mindy (a delightful Jessika Johnson) run smack dab into Justin via their jobs as bartenders at a local pub. Turns out that ol’ Justin is itching for kicks that a normal 9 to 5 call girl can’t provide and he begins eyeing the two friends for the sort of Candid Camera that would make Allen Funt blush. Things go wrong during the tryst, and Mindy winds up dead, setting up Amanda as collateral damage that Justin and his Senator father decide must be cleaned up, lest they blow up the worlds of Twitter and MSN with their vile deeds.

 Two detectives assigned to the case – Morris and Caldwell – wind up chasing their tails, knocking into false leads and misguided assumptions and things seem dire, indeed. Director Harley Wallen has a bit of fun with this ad hoc duo, essaying the role of Detective Caldwell and playing off of character actor par excellence, Jerry Hayes as Detective Morris.

 Enter Max London. Sizemore’s stoic ex-con (think Steve McQueen mixed with a little Richard Roundtree) races the invisible but always ticking clock in order to save his daughter and bring the Big Bad to justice. There’s a certain urgency that Wallen brings to the classic Cat and Mouse game that is reminiscent of Dexter writer Jeff Lindsay’s best efforts in that seminal show and Sizemore proves himself more than up to the challenge of keeping up with – and at times even overtaking – the breakneck speed that the second half of Abstruse demands.

 But in the end, as good as Abstruse is – and it’s indeed very good – it all comes down to those damn eyes; Tom Sizemore is an actor who really doesn’t need a lot of dialogue to help viewers cross any number of emotional bridges. He is simply that good. And, as a humbled but never broken ex-con hell-bent on rescuing his daughter, it’s the emotions behind those eyes that have lived a lot of lives and crossed a lot of rough ground that elevates a good movie into a really good movie.

Abstruse is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

About Ryan Vandergriff

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