A famous Japanese novelist and a Californian Sheriff get entangled in a mysterious case in San Francisco in indie director Dave Boyle’s elegant first thriller…
Being used to fall for the old stereotype of a sun-burnt California where you could barely see a timid cloud approaching on the horizon makes the introductory scene of Dave Boyle’s Man from Reno even more traumatic and intriguing than it might be. Sitting on the passenger seat in Sheriff Paul de Moral’s (Pepe Serna, White on Rice, Big Dreams Little Tokyo) car immersed in a thick fog, standing there side by side with him when he accidentally hits a Japanese man on the road is by itself a scene worth the ticket for Boyle’s fourth movie and first thriller in his career, already winner of the Best Dramatic Feature Award at the L.A. Asian Film Festival, the Jury Prize at the Dallas Asian Film Festival and now screening in San Diego.
Most of Man from Reno will play exactly like its opening, it won’t follow the usual rules of any mystery film you might think, nevertheless it lies quietly and without struggling on a bed of common tropes that help the experience to be as comfortable as possible. As soon as the well-dressed Japanese (Hiroshi Watanabe, Letters from Iwo Jima, White on Rice) hit by De Moral’s car has gone from the hospital where he had been brought, Boyle goes to the other side of the Pacific Ocean, in Japan, in the midst of a crowded presentation of author Aki Akahori’s (Ayako Fujitani, Daylight Savings, Tokyo!) press conference on her latest book in the succesful Inspector Takabe series. Fame gave her everything but a quiet life, a reason good enough to pack and leave without notice for San Francisco and stay among her friends before meeting a confident man (Kazuki Kitamura, Killers, The Raid 2: Berandal) that might be connected with De Moral’s running man.
Basically Aki’s life suddenly turns in one of her novels, but the reality is way much more different from an episode of Murder She Wrote. Surprises won’t come from the front door, Boyle’s film morbidly walks toward the next twist avoiding bumps and tight corners. Man from Reno faces reality as it is, it feels grounded and at the same time bizarrely otherworldly. It’s not a girl and a gun, it’s not even an exciting day in a novelist’s life, the thrill isn’t welcomed as a warm shake in her routine. Characters are as smart as a real human being, they react as anyone would do in a similar situation, preoccupied about themselves and curious to unveil the truth behind someone who appeared at your place uninvited and messed with your tranquility.
Dave Boyle’s background in comedy, with indie successes like Surrogate Valentine and its sequel Daylights Savings, comes in handy and it shows its face in Man from Reno intelligent timing: both Aki and Paul have their back stories expanded and explained throughout the feature, slowly they take their space between Kitamura’s charming smile and the asphyxiating four walls in Aki’s hotel room. Every important bit in the screenplay is placed exactly at the right moment, accumulating a mild but strong tension well represented by Boyle’s gesture of slowly moving the camera towards the action, getting inside the characters’ heads and watching silently the unfolding of their secrets.
Together with Boyle even cinematographer Richard Wong and the outstanding cast deserve their credits, especially Pepe Serna in his breakthrough as a leading actor, while Ayako Fujitani gives a very natural performance and Kazuki Kitamura comfortably plays the creepy mystery man from the movie title. Man from Reno builds a strong relationship with its viewers, it doesn’t run too far away from the conventions and doesn’t strike unpleasant hits, Dave Boyle’s movie pleases them but most of all it challenges them with an intelligent plot that requires attention and participation. Sometimes all you need is a movie that doesn’t want you to be passive, but one who wants you to be still, keep staying where you are and completely plunge yourself into it.