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For a movie that has garnered little to no fanfare, and one that you probably shouldn’t even bother watching, “The Son of No One” has a lot of names that you’ll recognize. You’ve got Channing Tatum in the lead; Katie Holmes as his wife; Al Pacino as, you’ll never guess this, a New York cop; Ray Liotta as, you’ll never guess this either, a corrupt New York cop; and Tracy Morgan in a role that is what I imagine is similar to the part his character from “30 Rock” played when he went after an Oscar. And Juliette Binoche shows up as a crusading journalist, forgot to mention that one.
This is the third time Tatum has teamed up with director Dito Montiel—first in “The Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” then in “Fighting”—but the real star of “The Son of No One” is Tatum’s mustache. His character, Jonathan ‘Milk’ White, is a 30-year-old rookie cop; his mustache, however, looks to be about 15. This may sound shallow and petty, but just the look of Tatum’s thin, scraggly lip-caterpillar makes it difficult to take him seriously, both as a cop and as a grown-ass man. I know he could beat the living hell out of me without even breaking a sweat, but he looks like a baby-faced teen. And in a movie that has pretensions at being an intense cop drama, that’s more than a little distracting.
When White is assigned to the 118th Precinct, which just so happens to be located in the Queens neighborhood he grew up in, it triggers all sorts of traumatic memories from his past. As one of the few white kids in the notorious Queensborough Projects, White, the son of a dead cop, kills a pair of wasteoid junkie scumfucks (including one who randomly barges into White’s apartment to poop), deeds that are covered up by his dead father’s old partner (Pacino). Years later, in the wake of 9/11, someone is sending anonymous letters to a local Queens newspaper, threatening to expose the people behind these two forgotten murders. So White must figure out who is threatening to expose his haunted childhood, appease his wife, deal with pressure from inside the department, and cope with a young daughter who is prone to some sort of generic fits, a condition that is almost completely ignored for most of the movie.
Present and flashback mix in awkward fashion, but as if that wasn’t enough, there are actually flashbacks within the flashbacks. Instead of creating a layered, textured structure, the plot of “The Son of No One” is a jumbled mess that bounces around in time, nonsensical and confused. There’s also a weird pedophile subplot with Vinnie, White’s best childhood friend. It is supposed to be the source of his psychological problems that plague him for his entire life—Morgan plays the adult Vinnie in a heavy-handed turn of events.
Subtlety and subtext are two things conspicuously absent in “The Son of No One”. Every line of dialogue is the most obvious thing that could possibly be said at any given moment, like when Pacino tells young White that, “it’s hard growing up around here [the projects], especially without a father.” I don’t know if you would have grasped that point, what, with an adolescent kid constantly getting beat up, threatened, and having to kill two dudes just to survive. That delicate nuance might have slipped past unnoticed if not pointed out. Fully two-thirds of Holmes’s lines are some variation on “What’s going on?” “What the fuck is going on?” and “What’s wrong?” There is nothing hidden or discreet at all in this film. Not even a little bit.
Terrible acting across the board, excessive aerial shots of the projects and cars driving on bridges, create an empty, faux-intense police drama. All of this, and a supposed plot twist that you see way off in the distance, come together in a truly terribly ending. The only thing left to do is throw your hands up, shrug your shoulders, and just walk away.
Dito Montiel (writer/director)
CAST: Channing Tatum…John ‘Milk’ White
Katie Holmes…Kerry White
Al Pacino…Detective Charles Stanford
Ray Liotta…Captain Marion Mathers
James Ransone…Officer Thomas Prudenti
Tracy Morgan…Vinnie (adult)
Juliette Binoche…Loren Bridges