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Shot In The Heart
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
USA, 2001 - 98 MINUTES
Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Elias Koteas, Eric Bogosian

Bull's Eye Sucker Punch…

Ninety-eight minutes of hard truths, urgent waiting and complicated family situations - a tour de force of acting and directing. The understated tone of the piece created a tension that one would have expected if this film had gone the obvious route. Brilliantly acted, Giovanni Ribisi and Elias Koteas go toe to toe in a verbal chess game where winning and losing isn't clear-cut.

Based on Shot in the Heart, by Mikal Gilmore, the film chronicles the last weeks of Gary Gilmore's life on death row in Utah, before becoming the first man in ten years to be executed. Published in 1994, Gilmore's book examines the distant and confusing relationship with a brother many years his senior, who was rarely out of prison. The youngest of four brothers, Mikal faced a decision to save Gary's life against his wishes with a petition for stay of execution. In 1977, Gary's execution was as political as it was emotional.

This movie is less about the political and legal struggles of Gary's execution. Brilliantly, the film retains its focus on the relationships between family members, stretch thin over a veneer of joviality. Mikal's character takes the hardest road, extracting truths from Gary a grain at a time, while his older brother Frank retreats from the situation altogether. Their mother dictates as much as she can from the sidelines, back home. Phone conversations highlight her neediness and sense of confusion about the whole event. Opportunistic family members show up to help with t-shirt and movie deals, while other members of the film, including Eric Bogosian as the journalist eager to report on Gary's last days, hover at the fringes with their own agendas.

The heart of the film is the interplay between Mikal and Gary. Ms. Holland directs these scenes brilliantly, moving the camera in subtly ever closer with each meeting. The intensity of emotion beneath the surface bursts to the fore at times, only to be restrained enough to continue the conversation. The intellectual dilemma here for Mikal becomes the point on which everything must turn - whether Gary controlling the method and time of his death is equivalent to own his crime and somehow gaining his freedom.

The film moved me and at times became uncomfortable. Watching the three brothers wrestle with the reality of their relationship was sparse, direct and naked. The film did not allow the viewer a moment of disconnection, and forced the viewer to wait, agitated and anxious, for an outcome that was uncertain.

Currently playing at the Film Forum as a special engagement, I would highly recommend seeing this film. Don't expect an escape from reality but rather an intellectual and emotional experience that shoots straight at the heart of family relationships.

Film Forum: Exclusive Engagement: March 27 - April 9

By Melissa Ulto
Copyright 2002

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