Dear reader, have you ever asked yourself the question, what would a Bourne franchise film with a fraction of the budget be like if it was crossed with a mild Fifty Shades influence and a serious horn for Jean-Pierre Melville noir and French new wave? Well, you’re in luck, because writer-director-star-producer-caterer (maybe not that last one) Dan Eberle has sought to provide you with an answer. Eberle has been making low budget films for a decade now and he’s a frequent multi-hyphenate on his projects, this being very much his movie.
A man (Eberle) we know only as Crowley waits in a New York apartment. He’s ex-CIA or something similar, and as the film begins he no longer exists, death faked, written out of existence. He’s waiting for a new identity to be provided so that he can move out west and live a normal life. With nothing to do but drink and sleep, he goes to visit French prostitute Sophie (Alexandra Hellquist) for some kink and laughs. Well, kink, no laughs.
At the same time shady cop Greer (Nick Bixby) has debts to settle and is desperate for a way out. When his informant in a city brothel tells him of a bag of Honduras mob money that has made its way into her pimp’s possession, he’ll do anything to get it. Said mob aren’t going to let the death of their bagman go unanswered, and they want their money back too. Eventually all these strands will meet and Crowley will need to rely on a very specific set of skills…oh, wait - that’s the wrong franchise. Anyway, they’re all bad people, folks.
Sole Proprietor works in some ways and not in others. Those European influences are likely to turn off a large part of the audience that would be attracted to the plot summary, especially in the establishing first half-hour. Here the cinematic style he goes for does little to offset the tedium that sets in early on as characters we know little about and connect little with either do generally nothing, but do it moodily, or do drugs. However things do improve as the plot begins to twist and bring the different strands together. Eberle has clearly thought about trying to instil coherence in how things happen, rather than relying simply on contrivance.
Overall, when making any kind of narrative art about people that aren’t a) good or pleasant and b) do bad things, you have to make what happens at the least compelling (take HBO’s Oz as a master class in how to make watching terrible people be terrible to each other very compelling). Sole Proprietor hovers precariously on a knife edge throughout its running time towards accomplishing this. It’s a shame that opening stretch will lose viewers as the last hour is better. Sometimes too artsy-fartsy for its own good, there’s enough ambition and achievement to commend in Sole Proprietor but not quite enough to make it essential.
SOLE PROPRIETOR / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: DAN EBERLE / STARRING: DAN EBERLE, NICK BIXBY, ALEXANDRA HELLQUIST / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW