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“The Deal” was shot mainly (if not entirely) in Spain with, in all likelihood, Spanish money, but stars a couple of somewhat well-known American actors in order to sell the film to American cable TV stations and Blockbuster Video. The presence of Penelope Ann Miller and Henry Thomas, though far removed from their Hollywood A-movie glory days, are enough insurance to see the film land in English-speaking markets and fool foreign market into believing “The Deal” is a Hollywood movie. But when all is said and done, “The Deal” is a Spanish film with an American accent. That little moment in Investment in Moviemaking 101 out of the way, let’s get to the film at hand.
“The Deal” stars Penelope Ann Miller (“The Relic”) as Laura Martin, who when we first meet her, is a loving wife and mother to an adorable 7-year old girl and a wine-making husband name Oscar (Andoni Gracia). After Oscar and the daughter are killed in an explosion at the couple’s wine warehouse, Laura’s life is, understandably, turned upside down. Enter American Embassy employee Frank Keenan (Henry Thomas), who informs Laura that the explosion may have been arson, and that Oscar (and by proxy, Laura’s daughter) might in fact still be alive and in hiding. As the two go about investigating Oscar’s mysterious death, they learn that Oscar was not Oscar at all, but rather a former FBI rat named Ramon, a drug dealer and killer who went into hiding when his former employer came gunning for him.
Written by Sam Hayes and Nick Angelo, the screenplay for “The Deal” is straightforward stuff despite its many attempts at offering up twists and turns. The further Laura digs into her husband’s background, the more she realizes that they were all fabrications, and that the man she loved was someone she never really knew. Later in the script, Ramon’s old associate, the Columbian drug kingpin Arias (Ismael Carlo) enters the picture along with his spunky and rebellious daughter Natalia (Lorena Bernal). Interpol starts getting even more tight lipped, and soon — well, by then you’ve probably already figured out who is on whose side, and why. And if not, then you just haven’t been paying attention.
A film like “The Deal” lives and dies by the performance of Penelope Ann Miller as the grieving mother. Just ask Jodie Foster in “Flightplan” and Julianne Moore in, well, every movie Julianne Moore has starred in. Miller does a fine job in the lead, conveying convincing emotions throughout the picture. Henry Thomas is surprisingly entertaining as the very helpful Frank, which helps as much of the film’s first hour follows Frank and Laura as they attempt to uncover Oscar’s muddled past. Although the script makes some faint stabs at injecting romance between the two leads, one senses that they couldn’t figure out a way to do it without making the whole thing, well, inappropriate — as it would undoubtedly come across as.
Director Bryan Goeres does well enough behind the camera, and the film showcases some nice editing tricks that, if a little too showy, would seem to indicate that someone was feeling inspiration when they were cutting the film. “The Deal” does well not to get bogged down by its lack of resources, and appears to make good use of what it has available, while avoiding what it can’t afford. The film itself is not action-packed, but does include an opening sequence that showcases an FBI raid on a drug compound, and a climactic gun battle that, unfortunately, looks to have been shot on the cheap.
The deal is that “The Deal” is a moderately budgeted mystery/thriller shot in and around Spain with good, but not great actors. The central mystery is not entirely clever or very inventive, and you should be able to predict much of the film’s big surprises. Penelope Ann Miller makes for a good Jodie Foster/Julianne Moore substitute, and there are moments when Henry Thomas’ performance is really intriguing. This line by Thomas’ Frank, about an hour into the film, cracked me up: “Well, this is a bit awkward.”
Yeah, I’d say so, Frank.
Bryan Goeres (director) / Sam Hayes, Nick Angelo (screenplay)
CAST: Penelope Ann Miller …. Laura Martin
Henry Thomas …. Frank Keenan
Dean Stockwell …. Agent Tremayne
Ismael ‘East’ Carlo …. Arias
Andoni Gracia …. Oscar Martin/Ramon
Abel Folk …. Inspector Navarrod
Lorena Bernal …. Natalia