Flinch: Review. By Trent Neely.
Flinch follows Joey Doyle (Daniel Zovatto) a hitman in the employ of crime boss Lee Vaughn (David Proval) and his son James (Buddy Duress). We soon learn that while Joey is very good at what he does, his services for the Vaughns are not voluntary. Joey’s father was a hitman for the Vaughns as well. However, he made a mistake that landed him in jail, forcing Joey to work off his father’s debt to the crime family. Joey’s mother Gloria (Cathy Moriarty) who Joey lives with, knows of her son’s occupation and simply wishes for him to do whatever is needed for him to stay alive.
We also learn that Joey has strong religious convictions and as a result feels conflicted about the nature of his work, yet simultaneously trapped by his obligation. Soon after completing a job, Joey is tasked by the Vaughns with killing city councilman Edward Terzian (Thomas Segura). After surveilling Terzian for a couple of days, Joey completes the job. There is one small problem however. Terzian’s assistant Mia Rose (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) sees Joey standing over her boss’ body. This results in Joey kidnapping Mia and taking her back to his house facing a difficult choice.
On one hand, he feels he has to kill Mia in order to eliminate witnesses and tie up loose ends. On the other, she is an innocent bystander who does not deserve to die, which weighs on Joey’s conscience. The remainder of the film focuses on Joey’s deliberation over what to do as various forces pull him in different directions including: his faith, the Vaughns, who themselves begin searching for Mia along with other criminals, and Mia herself, who Joey grows closer to over time and who is not all that she appears to be.
There have been many stories of hitmen who are conflicted about their job who become even more so when dealing with a surviving witness. More often than not thoee stories become action heavy and dependent as the protagonist is forced to take down their former bosses and countless assassins in order to protect the witness and escape with their life. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, and there are elements of this known structure in this film, writer/director Cameron Van Hoy deftly focuses the narrative beyond the surface.
There are action set pieces in the film that are wonderfully shot, choreographed and edited, but the emphasis is always on character. This slight subversion in what audiences come to expect in these types of films may disappoint viewers coming into the film expecting a lot of action.
The relationships between Joey, Mia, and Gloria receive particular emphasis as most of the film’s runtime centers on Mia’s forced residency at the Doyle home. We get to see how Gloria is a strong presence in Joey’s life. She wants her son to be safe and have morals, but at the same time wants to make sure he survives in this brutal criminal underworld. If it means she may have to kill Mia herself in order to protect her son, she is willing. However, feelings for Mia become more complex as she gets to know her throughout the film and sees the impact she has on Joey.
When it comes to Mia herself, in spite of her natural fear for her safety, she is shown to be a woman of strength, determination, and resourcefulness. In a way Mia serves as a mirror to Joey. At first, Mia seems like a bystander or victim but is then shown to be strong and resilient. Similarly, Joey is first shown as a force of reluctant yet brutal violence, but as we the audience and Mia get to know him, his conflict over his job and more empathetic nature comes through. These factors and more combine to lend believability to a growing bond between the pair.
The performances are a particular standout point in the film. Daniel Zovatto’s portrayal of Joey is one defined by subtlety and stoicism. Joey is a man who must maintain some degree of emotional distance in order to do what he does for a living. At the same time, we do see his caring nature for his mother and his deepening feelings for Mia emerge as the film progresses. Zovatto rarely communicates these notions through big speeches or extravagant gestures. Meaning every small gesture, line delivery, and look contains loads of subtext. Zovatto seems keenly aware of this in his performance and uses it effectively.
Tilda Cobham-Hervey is captivating as Mia, oscillating between fear, anger, defiance, and empathy at various points throughout the film. While her role is at times tasked with a greater need for vulnerability than Zovatto’s, Cobham-Hervey never comes across as weak. The chemistry between the pair is palpable and the relationship consequently feels very organic. Similarly, Daniel Zovatto and Cathy Moriarty do a great job of converting the layered history and complexity of a mother-son relationship. Moriarty in particular is the source of a lot of the film’s dark humor as her sweet maternal nature is contrasted with her instructions for Joey regarding how to survive his predicament, including the need to kill people.
At the same time this is a woman who says there should be no cursing at the dinner table. David Proval and Buddy Duress serve as effective antagonists as the Vaughns, especially Duress’ aggressive and impulsive James. Although there is not a lot of depth given to either character.
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