There’s much more excitement to watching a short film than a long film: while a longer film has plenty of time to succeed or fail, the shorter film is like a burst of lightning. Either it perfectly strikes ground, leaving a substantial mark, or it flutters through the sky inconsequentially: it may look pretty, but few actually notice it. So where does David Branin’s Shoot-Out stand in this meteorological metaphor?
In terms of cinematography and direction, Shoot-Out truly does leave its mark. Never before have I seen such an artistic basketball game (on film or otherwise). While the beginning shots are beautiful, lazy California wide open spaces, Branin brings a fury and intensity to the basketball court with his almost nauseatingly intense, jerky action shots. The dichotomy of motions is enough to compel and emotionally entangle an audience, but at the same time, each frame of the film looks composed enough to be an artistic still photograph as well.
Yet there is a huge problem with Shoot Out: the writing. Branin is a very talented director, but the script doesn’t live up to the promise of its images. While the story is an interesting idea (two men play a basketball game to the death), it’s overall ridden with pretension and just poor planning. The beginning of the film is interspersed with images of the basketball game that is about to happen, but at the same time, how are these two men supposed to know that they’re going to play basketball to the death?
While these moments build tension in an already very tense situation, they also build way too much confusion for an analytical viewer. Are we supposed to assume that they have already played a basketball game before? Are we supposed to feel that the two main characters are channeling their negative emotions through visions of violent basketball games? Also problematic is the ending of the film; Shoot-Out builds negative, nervous energy in both dialogue and imagery, but never is this energy fulfilled.
The ending of the film leaves the already troubled viewer with even more annoying questions. Yes, yes, there’s a philosophical message to be found, but at the same time, it’s executed so poorly that those who like philosophical movies will experience more of a moment of zen from a long eye roll.
Yet, despite all the complaining about writing, Shoot-Out is worth seeing for any lover of basketball. Actors Tyshawn Bryant and Daniel Sol look fantastic and play with exciting, poetic grace. Overall this is an excellent movie to show anyone who thinks that sports are totally isolated from the world of art and poeticism, or to show to someone who’s nostalgic for the days of Roman gladiators.
Shoot-Out is an official selection for EgoFest Short Video Festival, to be screened in Brainerd, MN on June 24. A limited-edition DVD will be released on May 15; for more information, visit the Shoot-Out MySpace page, or e-mail Dream Regime.
Reviewed by Megan Giddings