The winner of the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Narrative Award went to a film I was lucky enough to catch after the festival. Dave Boyle (Daylight Savings, White on Rice) presents a suspenseful and intriguing mystery with his neo-noir The Man from Reno.
Starting as many of these sorts of tales do, it’s an exceptionally foggy evening and small-town Bay Area Sheriff Paul Del Moral (Pepe Serna) finds an abandoned vehicle in the road late one night. He’s hardly able to even investigate when he accidentally hits the car’s driver. Before he is able to question the man, he disappears from the hospital, leaving his clothing behind. Meanwhile, in San Francisco hit Japanese mystery author Aki Akahori (Ayako Fujitani) is finding her life of book signings, tours, and mild celebrity more than she can handle. She runs away mid-book tour escaping to San Francisco’s Hotel Majestic, the perfect dark and romantic setting for a mystery.
Attempting to nurse her jet-lagged mind and after contemplating a razor a bit too long in the bath earlier, she meets a dashing young man (Kazuki Kitamura) in the hotel’s bar, also indulging in a late-night drink. Running into him again the next day, she allows herself to get caught up in a brief affair, that ends abruptly when he disappears, leaving his luggage behind in her room. When sinister characters start asking about her recent acquaintance, and a man with a camera is seen trailing her, her mystery-solving instincts kick in and she begins to look for clues about this mysterious man who left a name that doesn’t seem to be his and only a vague suggestion that he has ties to Reno. Meanwhile Sheriff Del Moral’s investigation is complicated when what was simply an abandoned car and mysterious traveler turn into a potential murder.
Fujitani is subtle and engagingly curious as Aki, her wonderment growing as each new stage of the mystery reveals itself and her renewed interest in her work growing as her career endeavors suddenly translate to a real-life situation. When her investigation finally pairs her with Sheriff Del Moral’s investigation, they form a strangely like-able duo, and though the film doesn’t have overall pacing issues, they still should have devised a way for Aki and the Sheriff to have been drawn together sooner. The mystery never tries to become anything too large, allowing the simplicity of the crimes and crime-doers as appropriate for our small-time mystery-solving team. Though, the plot’s duplicity increases dramatically in the end with character development that achieves a heavier climax than would be expected. Boyle, and co-writers Joel Clark and Michael Lerman, shift the focus from the film’s central characters to its lesser ones in an uneven sort of way.
The obvious luminary of the film has to be Richard Wong for his cinematography. With obvious references to film noir of old and great use of San Francisco’s architectural slopes and angles, the film’s feelings are obvious in every well-crafted shot, whether it’s an upward-angled shot of the side of a building, or Aki’s eye peering through her chain-locked hotel room door. Boyle has shown clear directorial grit with Man From Reno, making a dual-language film (more than 50% of it is in Japanese) fly by like the pages of a mystery serial.
Hopefully this film gets more festival love in the future and a chance at a wider audience, with its nuanced mood and star-quality leads it may be what gets Boyle the attention he deserves.