Reviewed by Thyronne Millaud: Director Nick Leisure’s latest film “A Clear Shot”, starring Mario Van Peebles, his son, Mandela Van Peebles, Glenn Plummer, and Jessica Meza, is based on the real-life story of Sacramento’s 1991 Good Guys Hostage Crises.
Four second-generation Vietnamese immigrants held 40 shoppers and employees hostage for nine hours inside a Good Guys electronics store, which to this day is still the nation’s largest hostage standoff. The actors give us a glimpse of the frustration and anger that is felt by so many marginalized groups.
Mario Van Peebles plays Detective Rick Gomez, a hostage negotiator trying to save the lives of the hostages and gunmen while dealing with petty police politics and the violent impulses of some of the hostage-takers and many of the police as well.
He deftly outmaneuvers an arrogant sheriff and bloodthirsty SWAT commander and identifies the gunmen and their motives all while flirting with a sassy uniformed female cop, charmingly played by Jessica Meza. Van Peebles plays Gomez almost too cool and too aloof, almost like armor to shield himself from the emotional scars of his work. But when he finally comes face to face inside the store with the young men, his performance shows an urgent intense emotional tone as he pleads with them to end the siege peacefully.
At times I felt the film could have elevated the tension and allowed us to see more of the toll that Gomez has to handle to save forty lives. (ie: intrigue, tension and the entire spectrum of human emotions all playing out against a ticking clock). Every time the situation starts to get going into what one would expect to build and maybe explode into some action or something interesting it just seems to fizzle out.
One of the most interesting things about “A Clear Shot” is the gunmen’s backstory. Through flashbacks and dialogue between them, we learn that they are second-generation immigrants having a difficult time finding work and integrating into American society. Their intent isn’t robbery but an attempt get some respect. All four actors give dynamic emotional performances that keep the film moving and give what humanity it does have. Particularly Tony Dew, as the hothead, Long, who wants to fight and kill to prove his point, and Kevin Bach, who plays his more contemplative brother, Pham, who’s knows they are in over their heads, and try to keep the others from doing it Long’s way while negotiating with Lopez.
There are a few points in the film where other characters compare the gunmen’s struggles as minorities in a white-centric America with their own such as members of a Latino family who are among the hostages and Detective Lopez himself as a black man with a Mexican father. The point being that society isn’t fair and many share the four young men’s feelings but taking hostages and shooting people is never the answer.
The filmmaker is successful in getting this sentiment across but I would have liked to see more of the struggle that brought them to this develop cinematically, instead, we are restricted to flashbacks that seem to illustrate more intra-family struggles while the societal struggles are relegated to the dialog between themselves or while justifying their actions to their captives and Detective Lopez. In any event, A Clear Shot will have you questioning the issues that continue to plague America a country that many immigrants are proud to call home.
A Clear Shot comes to DVD and Digital June 2 from Uncork’d Entertainment.