Nothing Without You – Sarasota Film Festival Day Two

 Nothing Without You, co-written and directed by Xackery Irving hit the screens on the second day of the Sarasota Film Festival. Despite having basically a no-name cast, Irving and his co-writer and producer Rick Santos, have crafted a psychological suspense thriller which is described as being about a psych-patient, accused of a violent murder.

She turns to her court-appointed psychiatrist to prove her innocence and sanity. Her psychiatrist must help her decipher delusion from truth to unravel the mystery of her reality.

There are some problems, the shrink is being pressured by her defense attorney who is looking for an open and shut psych defense that she’s not competent to stand trial.

The second problem is that from what we’ve seen, it looks like she is innocent. But we aren’t certain that what she saw was reality or was it a hallucination.

In an interview on the indienyc.com website, Xackery Irving stated that his main influences and inspiration came from watching the work of directors René Clément, Carol Reed, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock. In fact we see a Hitchcockian influence early in the film.

In Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Roger O. Thornhill, played by Cary Grant, has a man who was stabbed by someone else die in his arms in the lobby of United Nations Secretariat building in New York. He’s even photographed with the knife in his hand. In Nothing Without You, the main lead, Jennifer Stidger, played rather convincingly by Emily Fradenburgh, watches from across the street as her lover’s wife is followed into a house, and moments later the man who followed her in, comes rushing out.

Suspecting something, she crosses the street and even breaks into the building (she has a lock-pick tool) to discover that this woman has been stabbed and is about to die. Of course she is suspected by the police. Just like Hitchcock’s protagonist Roger Thornhill.

That’s your set up.

Irving has successfully mixed elements of political skull-duggery, a philandering husband, rather excellent police work which includes chases on cars and foot as well technical elements like the following of a suspect by real-time cell phone tracking into an engrossing film.

Irving’s career has included some fine work with police in the TV series – The First 48, and it certainly shows in this film. In fact, Irving employed some real life policemen to portray some detectives out in the field, so this police element looked and sounded very realistic.

What wasn’t so realistic, were the skills shown by the protagonist, Jennifer Stidger. Not only could she pick locks, but she also utilized some very sophisticated anti-surveillance techniques. But too often it seemed like she was too close and too near police stakeouts to not be seen. Maybe she was lucky.

Beyond that, she displayed remarkable skills with a computer, as well as knowledge about how to handle a gun. One has to wonder where these skills came from.

On the plus side, is the performance of Emily Fradenburgh as Jennifer. Jennifer is tough and yet she’s foolish. In her own words, Jenn always falls for the wrong guy – as in a guy who might play – but then would cash out leaving her alone and desperate. She’s also fearless – but as she puts it – I’ve nothing to lose. But this is always balanced by her look of vulnerability.

Emily Fradenburgh as Jennifer

Emily Fradenburgh as Jennifer

Her choices are to get off on the psych defense and spend years in a psychiatric hospital or she can roll the dice and possibly face the death penalty. So why not break a ton of laws to prove your innocence?

Director Xackery Irving humping his own digital camera, as handling the focusing and lighting set ups

Director Xackery Irving humping his own digital Red One camera, as well as handling the focusing and lighting set ups

Irving’s story and direction are above average and he’s taken a story that is not dis-similar to Soderbergh’s Side Effects and has delivered a decent film. The film won top honors at the Toronto Indie F.F., and played to a packed house at the Sante Fe F.F. Irving has done quite well considering that he had to work with a low-budget which led to a no-name cast. He also had to hump the camera himself to save a line entry on the expense ledger for a cameraman.

Speaking of Side Effects, Rooney Mara who played the ‘lady killer’ in that film, was kind of creepy, and even though she was ‘sympathetic’ to a degree – despite her guilt, but it was difficult to relate to her. Fradenburgh’s Jennifer is realistically someone you do want to root for, and despite the sketchiness of her having all these skills which roll out one by one, causing you to wonder – you have to support her. Of course, she’s on-screen for most of the film.

Jennifer stalking Michael

Jennifer stalking Michael

Her appointed shrink, Dr. Charles Branham is played by Keith McCall (below), is solid but he doesn’t produce any highlights and that’s because as written, his role was limiting as to what he could do as an actor. Whereas Jennifer was flighty, and ‘of the moment’, Charlie the shrink had both of his own feet on the ground most of the time, but not quite all the time.

The lover and his dirty political partner are not much more than paper-thin stock characters.

So Fradenburgh was going to walk away with the film. We may not have known that going in, but it became evident not too deeply into the story.

I’ll give the film a three-point five (out of five rating) and I’ll recommend the film. It is not often that I will recommend a film with an unknown cast, but this time I do.

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