You can view Hopeless Romantic below! But this review features no spoilers, so you can also watch it after reading, if you prefer.
It has to be said, it has been a little while since I saw a film as pulpy as this. Hopeless Romantic, written and directed by Stephen Beason, tells the story of two hitmen in an unforgiving world – those two hitmen being Matt (played excellently by Marx Mitchell) and Sammy (Jeff Freeman), the former of which is a serious, no-holds-barred man on a mission and the latter of which never appears even slightly phased by his lifestyle of murder, sex and drinking.
Showing the clear influences of the likes of Quentin Tarantino (most clearly, Pulp Fiction of course – two hitmen, fun quippy dialogue, a woman becoming involved with a hitman, etc. are all clear markers), Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), William Friedkin (I couldn’t stop thinking of Killer Joe!) Shane Black and the more underrated S. Craig Zahler (the first film that came to mind was Brawl in Cell Block 99 with the wide digital cinematography that looks great throughout, and then Marx Mitchell also reminded me heavily of Vince Vaughn’s performance in both Cell Block 99 and the more recent Dragged Across Concrete – that perfect line-riding between cold and brutal and cheeky), Beason’s script is just wonderful, and I’m surprised to say that as somebody who usually can’t get along with Tarantino-esque works. The dark comedy and the great character subtleties revealed through the dialogue are really good, showing clear admiration for the kind of grizzly crime films that this short also belongs to, and the film surprisingly manages to create a feeling of a genuinely lived-in world within its slight fifteen minute runtime, which is mighty impressive to me as often it is those types of authenticities that are missing from short films (especially ones focused first and foremost on developing the three main characters, as this one is).
Beason’s direction is great, too, especially for his debut short. I do think that the film itself would actually benefit from maybe an extra five or ten minutes of running time, in which it could flesh out the relationship between Sammy and Matt, and Matt and Lizzy (played by Amie Bishop), as when the film ended I did find myself wishing that we had spent a little more time getting to know Lizzy in particular. Her character is, evidently, not the focal point of the short film, but still, I feel that it would have made the ending more impactful had we known her character more and how she effected the others. I also found that, the same issue that troubles many lower-budget productions like this, Hopeless Romantic did struggle a little with the sound editing, which sometimes was mixed quite roughly and was a little distracting – but again, this really isn’t the focal point of the film, and only distracts from one sequence towards the middle of the film. The editing in the opening minute or two could have also used a little extra sharpening, as it felt that the edits were motivated by nothing – simply cutting for the sake of cutting at times, when I personally think that the opening would have benefitted from giving the edits a little more breathing room for the sake of lulling the audience in to this bleak and dingy world.
But really, the highlight (other than the script, which is responsible for bringing all of this film’s good qualities together really) for me was Marx Mitchell’s great performance as Matt. Showing great versatility, he manages to be both shockingly violent and amusingly sly, and thanks to Jeff Freeman’s performance opposite him as Sammy, the two build a convincing chemistry that acts as the backbone for the majority of the film. As I said previously, the cinematography is also pretty striking, skipping between quite wide shots to suddenly intense close-ups which creates a great jarring feeling that ramps up the tension, but also knowing when to let the actors and the dialogue do the work, as in the sequence in the car when the cinematography goes to a more barebones shot-reverse shot to keep things easy to follow for the audience.
So, looking at the bigger picture, Hopeless Romantic is a seriously promising debut. I’m always a sucker for films that wear their influences so proudly on their sleeves, so I was really quite charmed by seeing Tarantino and Friedkin and Zahler splattered all over this, and the lead performance from Marx Mitchell is just great – he is shockingly charismatic, which allows his character to do the darker moments and still be likeable – something very hard to do for a character in a feature, never-mind a fifteen minute short! There are some minor slip-ups, as can be expected, but this is a fun, slick and short crime-drama with dark comic elements thrown in for good measure, and it shows some real potential.