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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Canadian Film Review: Treed Murray (2001)

* * * 1/2

Director: William Phillips
Starring: David Hewlett, Kevin Duhaney, Cle Bennett, Carter Hayden, Jessica Greco, Aaron Ashmore

The premise is simple: there’s a man in a tree. At the bottom of the tree are five teenagers who want to beat him up. He’s willing to stay in the tree waiting them out; they’re willing to stay at the bottom waiting him out. Day turns to night and night turns back to day. The result is an effective character study which examines assumptions about race, class and sex and how popular culture has blurred the lines of social categorization.

The man in the tree is Murray (David Hewlett), an advertising executive who goes for a walk through a park, gets into a scuffle with a teen named James (Kevin Duhaney) and subsequently finds himself being chased by James and his friends. In his efforts to escape Murray climbs a tree but unfortunately leaves his briefcase at the bottom of it. The teens find the briefcase and then look up and find Murray, thus beginning a stand-off which will last all night.

The teens try various means to get Murray out of the tree. They attempt to climb up after him but, in this instance, Murray has the advantage because being safely ensconced on a branch with all his limbs free, all he has to do is give a swift kick to the head of whoever is making his way up. They attempt to stone him but he catches the rocks and throws them back and they have a greater impact going down than they do coming up. Shark (Cle Bennett), the leader of the group, decides that they’ll just wait for Murray to come down, reasoning that he’ll have to eventually. Murray knows that this is true but is counting on a few possibilities: a) the teens will get bored and decide that he’s not worth it given that they already have his briefcase and his wallet; b) morning will come and his predicament will be discovered by joggers; c) he can make the members of the group turn on each other.

The ensuing psychological warfare shifts the balance in Murray’s favour. It’s his job to read people, to figure out what’s going on in their heads so that he’ll know how to manipulate them into buying his products. He can recognize that KC (Carter Hayden) is a manufactured thug who has cribbed his speech pattern and attitude from pop culture and adopted his style from department stores because, despite his posing, he’s able to nail the brand and value of Murray’s briefcase. “I can see right into you because I made you,” Murray tells him. “I dressed you. You reek of every billboard, every magazine cover, every commercial I put out over the last two years. You’re a perfect demographic fit: mid-teen, male, upper-middle income, bored, hip-hop listening, underage drinking, pathologically masturbating little consumer.” In his savage exposure of KC, Murray is able to cause a rift amongst the group but he doesn’t give the kids enough credit for being able to see through him as well. Kelly (Jessica Greco) and James are easily able to peg him for his own shortcomings as a lacklustre husband and uninvolved parent, which stops Murray short and cuts him to the core.

The revelations which are made about the characters during the course of the film are occasionally predictable, but the end result is still an effective and engrossing story. I stumbled across this one on TV when I was flipping around during the commercials while watching another show and I couldn’t stop watching because writer/director William Phillips is able to make what could be a very static story incredibly compelling. The film does make one misstep which involves an underworld figured called The Raven and his gang who, for their few minutes onscreen, take the story way over the top, but other than that this is a very strong effort.

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