Madtown is a 2018 thriller about a man, haunted by his sister, who is confronted by her years later after she’s released from prison.
We are each born into family we have no choice in being part of. For most, that’s what defines us, our bond to parents and siblings shaping much of who we become. In Charles Moore‘s latest feature Madtown, it is the complex relationship between a brother and sister, born of violence and survival, that drives this often engaging little film, one that stays on rails but is nonetheless well worth a look.
Denny Briggs (Milo Ventimiglia) steps on stage for the first time, his dream of being a standup comic about to come true, even though he makes it clear to the owner, this will be a one time show. To the audience, after a moment of awkward silence, he informs them that he’s going to confess a terrible crime, swearing to tell only the truth, and that they are his jury. Shocked and amused by his story, he then proceeds to detail a plot of murder, one linked to his slightly older sister Madison (Amanda Aday), who we learn, is fresh out of prison after a 20-year stint. It’s a tale of heartache, tragedy, and redemption.
Moore, who also wrote the screenplay, uses flashbacks to slowly unravel the real truth, revisiting a number of points in his life, both in his distant past to the very recent. We discover that as a high school student, he was a skinny, nebbish youth, bullied by jocks, Madison coming to his defense, earning trouble for her valor. As an adult, once losing a warehouse job he had for seventeen years, he takes a job at a family restaurant where he becomes involved with Sarah (Rachel Melvin), a single mom. Moore takes his time here, spending little time on stage, developing Denny and his past with care, ever so carefully revealing a darkness that weighs heavy.
The dynamic between the two women in Denny’s life lies at the heart of the story, with Denny feeling hope in one direction and obligation in another. Ventimiglia, who many will recognize from the television hit This Is Us, plays it low-key, even stoic, with burden in his eyes and pain in his shoulders. We feel his struggle and while his fate isn’t necessarily too hard to see coming, Moore populates that journey with deeply personal encounters that make it all the more profound when things come to its end. We see shifts and parallels that create extremes from his youth to now, each making his choices all the more troubling. He is a haunted man, anchored and drowning by a horror in his past, one that won’t let him forget.
Moore uses old classic standup on LP and rides on public buses as cues and visual metaphors for transition, and while the film lingers a bit and might feel a little contrived in a late night conflict, it closes its circle well. Boosted by several good performances, especially from the always good John Billingsley as the owner of the diner, Madtown works best as a sort of dark pulpy tale of personal discovery. Dialogue-driven and less concerned with flash, for fans of the slow burn, compelled by relationships rather than action, there is much that will satisfy.
Madtown releases on January 5th.
Movie description: Madtown is a 2018 thriller about a man, haunted by his sister, who is confronted by her years later after she's released from prison.
Director(s): Charles Moore
Actor(s): Milo Ventimiglia, Rachel Melvin, Amanda Aday