What Doesn’t Kill You
Director: Brian Goodman.
Screenplay: Brian Goodman, Paul T. Murray, Donnie Wahlberg.
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Ethan Hawke, Amanda Peet, Donnie Wahlberg, Brian Goodman, Will Lyman, Angela Featherstone, Edward Lynch, Brian Connolly, Michael Yebba, Lenny Clarke.
“I’m sick of all this nickel and dime bullshit”
The Best Supporting Actor nominations in this year’s Oscars was arguably the toughest category of any. We had screen legend Robert Duvall in The Judge, a rejuvenated Edward Norton in Birdman, deserving winner J.K. Simmons in Whiplash and Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke for Foxcatcher and Boyhood respectively. But, like me, what you may not have known is the latter two had already shared the screen together in true-life, little seen, crime drama What Doesn’t Kill You.Paulie (Ethan Hawke) and Brian (Mark Ruffalo) are a couple of small time hoods who can only muster small change from their petty crimes. This puts a strain on their personal lives and the bosses they work for so they decide to start aiming higher and branching out on their own. However, like most criminals, the deeper they get the greater the consequences. Brian wants out but Paulie is commited to achieving that one big score that will change their lives.On the surface this looks like it’s just another conventional, blue-collar crime drama but on reflection it’s much more than that. After it’s opening heist scene, we are taken back to the early days and how Paulie and Brian got involved in their errands for local gangsters and the lack of any other opportunity presented to them. Slowly Hawke’s character tails off and Ruffalo’s afflicted family man takes centre stage and the film becomes more about his personal journey: trying to make ends meet; remaining loyal to his no-hoper friend; kicking his drug and alcohol addictions and supporting his wife and two sons. All the while, he’s trying to stay one step ahead of the police and keep himself out of jail.The film works primarily on it’s realism: anchored by Hawke and, especially, Ruffalo’s excellent central performances, the characters feel real and the South Boston setting feels authentic. At one point there’s a shooting (I won’t say whom) but it’s a simple Pop, Pop, Pop… with a real sense of panic, helplessness and disorientation that you don’t often see in scenes of this nature. However, I would have liked Goodman to inject a bit more adrenaline into his heist or robbery scenes as occasionally they can feel a little flat and not as exciting as they could’ve been. That said, his focus on the more personal and heartfelt struggle of his characters impresses most and it’s a solid directorial debut.Unfortunately, the film wasn’t marketed very well and due to the collapse of it’s distributor (Yari Film Group) it was released on a very small scale. This largely contributed to it slipping through the cracks. Added to which, some of the film’s posters can make it look like a cheap B-movie and the fact that it’s title changed a number of times across many countries done it no favours either. It’s also known as: Boston Streets, Real Men Cry and Crossing Over. As you can see, the film never really had a chance. This is a real disservice, though, as it’s a fine addition to the genre and both Hawke and Ruffalo deliver some of their best work while Goodman (who also stars and co-wrote with Donnie Wahlberg) confidently displays his understanding of this harsh and unforgiving environment.In fairness, you’ll have seen many films like it before and it doesn’t really bring anything new the table but that’s no reason for it to be overlooked. (And it certainly didn’t deserve to be buried the way it was). If your a fan of this type of material and the leading actors, then these are reason enough to highly recommend it.Mark Walker
Trivia: The events are actually based on writer/director Brian Goodman’s own personal experiences up until the mid 1990’s.