J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Word: Cults in Connecticut

There is a cult operating in the shadows of Connecticut’s well heeled neighborhoods. This is no mere meatheaded Ivy League secret society. They practice human sacrifice. Sadly, Tom Hawkins’ son was their latest victim. Understandably, the grieving father is not ready to forgive and forget in Gregory W. Friedle’s The Word (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Hawkins regularly brokers multi-million dollar deals for his firm, yet somehow his son Kevin was snatched right out from under his nose at the mall. Not surprisingly, the single father is suffering from crushing guilt, as well as rage and bereavement. He is a complete wreck, but he still agrees to take a meeting with the FBI, who inform him his son’s murder fits a pattern of ritualistic homicides throughout New England. There is most definitely a cult behind the killings, but they are organized in a highly regimented cell structure. However, they have successfully placed undercover agent David Richardson in a cell overseen by a mid-level cultist.

Bafflingly, that deep cover agent regularly attends meetings with Hawkins, the local detective on the case, and his no-nonsense handler, special agent Mike Sheehy. You might think that would be some sort of breach of protocol or security, but apparently not. In fact, it is absolutely necessary to the plot, allowing Hawkins to stumble across Richardson acting far too familiar with his ostensive target.

As a thriller, The Word is kind of a train wreck, but it is not even clear it wants to be one. Essentially, the first half hour is dedicated to exploring the depths of Hawkins’ pain and grief. Arguably, this is what works best in the film, before it eventually shifts gears into a murky revenge-conspiracy melodrama, riddled with plot holes. Frankly, it is embarrassingly easy to tell who the secret cultist is, due to the limited cast of characters. Still, Friedle finds some compelling Nutmeg State locations, including Castle Craig near Meriden.

To be fair, Kevin O’Donnell is not bad as Hawkins and the commanding Broadway vet James Naughton (Michael Frayn’s Democracy) truly looks and sounds like a Fed. Bernie McInerney also has a nice moment as Hawkins’ priest, but the rest of the ensemble comes across a bit awkwardly, to put it in diplomatic terms.

Since there is no ominous text or tract driving the evil doers, even The Word’s title is rather off. It is an earnest film that all parties involved fully committed to, but the inconsistent script doomed their efforts from the start. It feels mean to say it, because it is such a scrappy indie production, wearing its CT pride on its sleeve, but The Word just cannot be recommended. For indomitable Connecticut cinema boosters, it opens tomorrow (8/15) in New York at the Quad Cinema.

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