Sole Proprietor (Blu-ray)Gordon Sullivan
“She involves him in a deadly conspiracy that puts them in the cross-hairs.”
It wasn’t so long ago that if you wrote, directed, and (sometimes) starred in a stylish crime film it would be the first step on a path to international stardom. It worked for Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Troy Duffy. In the 21st century, it’s more likely that new talent will come from making a low-budget sci-fi film (Safety Not Guaranteed shot Colin Treverrow to Jurrassic World, and Monsters led to Gareth Edwards helming both Godzilla and Rogue One). Dan Eberle is keeping the flame alive, though, with his fifth crime feature, Sole Proprietor. It’s stylish and moody, but the payoff won’t quite be there for many viewers.
Sole Proprietor stars Eberle as Crowley, a former CIA operative who’s faked his own death. Now he’s just waiting on a new identity so he can get away. But things don’t go quite right, and Crowley finds himself helping out some sex workers while getting involved with the Russian mob.
At this point in his career, Eberle has shown himself to be a competent, and even interesting, filmmaker. Prayer to a Vengeful God took the unusual step of being dialogue-less, and it’s obvious that Eberle knows how to get by on a budget. Someone should have already given him a Jason Statham vehicle to helm. But since no one has handed Eberle a script and a star, he has to do everything himself. That makes Sole Proprietor a mixed bag.
On the plus side, Eberle has a pretty strong vision of what he wants to achieve. This is a low-down and dirty crime picture, one of those films that showcases the darker side of urban life. The main character is an all-but nameless killer, he hangs around with criminals, but of course plays the “white knight” when he has to. This isn’t a sleek or slick crime drama that leaves viewers kinda wishing they could be bad guys (like an Ocean’s Eleven, say). No, Sole Proprietor is the kind of greasy, grimy crime flick we don’t see too much of anymore.
Though Eberle’s worldview is pretty in-your-face, the rest of the film is fairly subtle. This is much more of a slow-burn style film, filled with lots of pauses and little dialogue. There’s violence aplenty, but it’s all the more brutal for being used sparingly.
The film is also pretty competently made, especially for this budget. Eberle knows where to put the camera and how to edit a scene. He gets some decent performances from a variety of actors, and isn’t afraid to show a little skin.
The Blu-ray is also pretty decent. The film’s 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer looks fine. The overall picture is meant to look a bit grimy and gritty, so the fact that detail occasionally wavers, colors are intentionally pushed, and darkness overtakes the frame should be considered features not bugs. There’s definitely some resolution in close-ups, and the stylish look of the film is well-supported by the transfer, it’s just not reference quality. The film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is similarly fine. Dialogue is clean and clear in the front, and there’s some decent atmosphere and sound effects in the rear channels. Again, it won’t test your system, but its fine for the film.
Extras start with a set of four featurettes that cover the “world” of the film. It’s a bit explanatory (meaning if you’ve seen the film a lot of the information is redundant), but there are some interesting tidbits with Eberle and some of the other actors. We also get two trailers for the film, one red-band and the other not.
On the flip side, there’s very little about Sole Proprietor that really stands out. Oh, we have another former-killer trying to get away from the life who gets sucked into doing one last job to save a sex worker? Where have I heard that before? These kinds of cliché plots and characters can work when you’ve got a bigger budget (and can stage bigger action scenes) or when you’ve got a super-charismatic star (like Jason Statham). Eberle is a fine enough actor and has decent screen presence, but he’s no Jason Statham. That leaves Sole Proprietor feeling pretty underwhelming. It’s not bad in any traditional sense, but the variously fine ingredients (decent acting, solid atmosphere) don’t mesh with the cliche elements (the tired characters and plot). With no hook (like Prayer To A Vengeful God’s lack of dialogue), Sole Proprietor just feels like a run-of-the-mill crime flick.
Sole Propreitor isn’t a bad film, but its cliché elements weigh down a decent set of performances and a solidly bleak view on the world. A decent Blu-ray means that fans of filmmaker Dan Eberle should probably pick this one up, but only hardcore crime fans who don’t mind an indie slow-burn vibe should give this one a spin.