Recently FilmEdge got the opportunity to preview the independent (and yet unreleased) film MISSING PIECES by first-time writer/director Kenton Bartlett, and we advise those who embrace indie filmmaking to keep an eye out for its eventual release as this ambitious, complex drama of the heart finds its way to theaters.
As the film’s title suggests, the lives of its four main characters are puzzles in search of solution, and the intentionally fragmented plot forcing a collision between them is an emotional jigsaw challenge for viewers as well. Young Mr. Bartlett (aged 23 when he and his team completed their three-year labor of love) should take the description oddly compelling as a compliment, since this is an accurate and favorable impression of their results.
In this enigmatic drama, long-haired and disheveled David Lindale (Mark Boone Junior) attempts to piece his life, mind and emotions back together after a car accident, which appears to have cost him much including the love and trust of his recent ex Delia (Melora Walters). David works odd jobs for a delivery company while waiting for meds to help refurbish his mental state that, for now, leaves him with an aching sense of lost love but none of his psychological or emotional tools to regain it.
A parallel plot involves two twentysomethings who also live in David’s cheap apartment complex, a pair of social misfits struggling make ends meet in dead-end jobs. More relevant to David’s plight, both Daylen (Daniel Hassel) and Maggie (Taylor Engel) lack any firm grip on their own stifled loves and life ambitions. Through an overlapping series of vignettes — akin to Christopher Nolan’s MEMENTO but without his direct and uber-detailed reverse chronology as a sturdy plot foothold for viewers — David attempts to relearn how to love again by manufacturing a kidnapping scenario which forces Daylen and Maggie together as an unlikely couple bonding, apparently, for their mutual survival.
Just as David’s pre-accident personality as a photographer made him a de facto voyeur of the world around him, he now must attempt to reschool himself about life and love while observing and recording Maggie and Daylen as they work together to decipher the puzzle of their abduction. One of the larger achievements by filmmaker Bartlett is how he pulls off this kidnapping plot gimmick (which includes ankle bracelets that incapacitate his captive couple if they disobey instructions) without the entire scenario becoming utterly creepy and distasteful to watch. This unexpected tone of compliance, as bizarre as it is involving, is one of the film’s strengths, even if it doesn’t always hold up to real world logic in execution.
Mark Boone Junior is MISSING PIECES’ not-so-secret weapon, and his deftly acted portrayal of troubled David yields uncanny results in the role. A successful, ever-dependable character actor currently appearing in the FX series SONS OF ANARCHY with past credits including BATMAN BEGINS and MEMENTO among many others, his work here walks a perilous line between involving viewers with his heartache while distancing them by his extreme actions. Without his marvelous ability to make David sympathetically strange (or vice versa) on his noble quest, the film’s dramatic puzzle would shatter into unbelievable shards of artistry without purpose.
Melora Walters (BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, BIG LOVE) effectively portrays Delia as a loving woman pushed to the limits of her tolerance and patience, watching David fight and fail to pull his fractured life and mind back together. Taylor Engel and Daniel Hassel show promise as two young actors, even if their stress-bonded characters lack the same finessed individuality as scripted. Too often they merely react to David’s scheme while only timidly asserting themselves alone or together in their plight to regain freedom.
In its reviewed cut (and the DVD screener implies there was so much more shot and omitted), MISSING PIECES wins the larger war in telling its mysterious love stories even if it loses smaller battles in the campaign. The lengths to which Daylen and Maggie comply with David’s instructions on their road trip in captivity (an intriguing notion, to be sure) often strain credulity given the potentially horrific realities of their unexplained abduction. While their characters’ backstories contribute to their compliance, they inject too little of themselves in the kidnapping dynamic to regain balance in the unfolding power struggle. The far-flung locations along their journey — ranging from fractured mineral fields in Utah to isolated buttes in Kansas (all far cries from the Birmingham, Alabama main setting) — make much better excuses for exotic cinematography than they do logical destinations as devised in David’s plan. A few too many moments on-screen belie the director’s visual ambitions without solid plot counterparts to anchor such flights of geographic fancy.
On the other hand, these vistas certainly stand out above the average indie film’s scope and they add obvious production value thanks to DP Jonathan Arturo‘s dreamlike photography. Likewise composer Richey Rynkowski‘s rather haunting score enhances the more ethereal elements of symbolism and parable to Bartlett’s imaginative if sometimes overelaborate tale.
Bartlett and his substantial crew of volunteer collaborators and benefactors certainly got plenty of indie style bang for their $80,000 bucks, which helps MISSING PIECES worth seeking out sometime in the next year. The film unmistakably documents the youthful, inexperienced ambition bubbling inside Bartlett as periodic scenes exist plainly for artistry’s sake rather than unifying each creative element into a larger, stronger dramatic whole. Still these moments are as valued as they are distracting while the first-time auteur swings for the fences without fear — a bit more discipline and experience will raise his batting average higher on the next film.
FilmEdge advises indie film fans not to miss out on MISSING PIECES when it gets a theatrical release for an early look at a promising young filmmaker and an immediate appreciation of some fine character work. The project is a highly uncommon, subtly compelling examination of loves lost and found which many will find a welcome antidote to the parade of mindless romcoms endlessly stuffing your local cineplex. This puzzle could be a bit more intriguing to solve, but all its pieces fit to form an iconoclastic vision that is definitely worth a look.
You can learn more about MISSING PIECES and view the trailer at FindYourMissingPieces.com.