Director Patrick Lazzara directs and leads the cast of Burn, a feature-length crime drama about a gangster looking to help his brother escape a mob boss’s hitman.
Whilst pitting people against each other is a token tried-and-tested modus operandi for villains in crime thrillers, the way it’s used in Burn sets it apart from the crowd. It’s a theme which plays an integral part in this film’s set-up and pay-off. Sadly, this accomplishment only serves to throw into sharp relief the film’s arrant shortcomings.
Certainly, there are some solid performances. Dawn Barber plays the sultry Laurel, the seductive, forbidden love interest with gusto. Seth, played by John Fava, is at his belligerent best when things start to fall apart and relations with his colleague, Max, sour. His portrayal also subtly hints at an undeclared rivalry with Max (this is possibly the closest this film gets to any real subtext). The two brothers’ performances (Max and Vince, played by Patrick Lazzara and Eric Stayberg) are competent but disappointingly flat for men who are supposed to be on the absolute edge. The truth is, while there are a few nice one-twos here and there, no-one really sparkles in this.
And this is where the problem lies. The performances don’t hold up the heavy-hitter plot and there is little in the way of character development to pull you in. The gangster, his moll, his lieutenant, the conflicted hitman-cum-bodyguard and his hot-headed younger brother have the potential to be more than ciphers straight out of the crime thriller 101 playbook, but this is what we are served here on a big, re-heated lukewarm plate. The script is prone to cliche and does nothing new for the genre in terms of fresh takes and perspectives, and it’s awash with the sort of gangsterish lines you’ll have heard a thousand times before.
You often hear it said when a judge passes sentence on a condemned man that had he directed his energies to non-criminal pursuits, he might well have been very successful in life. If you’ll permit the abstruse comparison, in a similar way, had the creators given as much attention to exposition, the characters and scene direction as they had to the overall plot and premise, this could have been a very good film. The deficiencies are plain to see – a case in point is the cringey restaurant scene where we see a clutch of characters sit alongside each other on a table bench – Seth, sitting in the middle, is unaccountably asked to get Lauren a drink – cue lots of awkward scooching across some groaning seat cushions.
Knowing nothing of the characters creates fundamental problems for the film. The story trips up right from the gun – I found myself asking why Seth, even as a professional courtesy, would tell Max he planned to assassinate Vince, laying himself open to the very real risk of Max tipping his brother off. Some of the scenes are a little slow at times (there was a little too much walking and parking up for my liking), but overall, the film ticks along at a decent pace and wears its 1 minute 40 runtime well. The ending manages to tie the film up in an imperfect bow but a unique and satisfying one, all the same.
Burn is set to be released on 1 April 2022 on VOD and streaming platforms.
Review by John Molyneax