If you see Skills Like These on Amazon and see that docuramafilms has put the film out, don’t be confused. I did zero research on this film before watching it and it took me a little while to figure out that this wasn’t a documentary at all…but rather a standard fictional film. Of course then I looked at the packaging itself and saw that it was actually New Video NYC putting it out, so Amazon had it wrong the whole time. Not that I was let down, but I have to say going into a film expecting a documentary and ending up with a full fledge movie is a bit disorienting. But even with this confusion, Skills Like These offered up a fresh concept with an interesting cast and possibly one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard on a film in quite awhile.
An indie festival-circuit favorite, SKILLS LIKE THIS follows struggling writer Max (Spencer Berger) into a life of crime. He finds robbery to be his true calling after his play, THE ONION DANCE, not only bombs, it puts his investor grandfather in the hospital. On a whim, he robs a bank and miraculously gets away with it. Everything seems predetermined that he should enter a life of crime (he gives the money away, Robin Hood-style), but then romance blooms with the cute bank teller (Kerry Knuppe) he robbed, and she tries to talk him into going straight. Meanwhile, his two aiding and abetting buddies have differing views on this newfound profession: the one who actually has a life, David (Gabriel Tigerman), is nervous about the risks, while the loud-mouthed lout in the bunch, Tommy (Brian D. Phelan), is impressed enough to think about actually getting a job. In director Monty Miranda’s hands, the Denver locale blossoms into slacker heaven, with local indie-rock bands livening up the soundtrack and flashy editing recalling films like SNATCH and GOODFELLAS. Co-screenwriters and stars Berger and Tigerman imbue the film with just enough raunch and rolling-on-the-floor moments to keep the party alive, but not enough to sabotage the more serious elements, like Berger and Knuppe’s genuinely touching onscreen chemistry.
Skills Like This is very much a dark comedy in every sense of the genre, although it seems to downplay the comedy a bit too much. It’s easy to fall in love with the notion of this film, but it’s so littered with flaws and little nuances that simply don’t work to really be something that you can stick with until the end. You want to love this film, especially with all of the awards and positive word of mouth that it’s built up since its limited theatrical run in the US, but in the end you’re just left questioning what everyone saw in this film that you didn’t.
What drive the film is Max’s incredible failure of a play and the resulting hospitalization of his grandfather. This adds to the film our “dark comedy” angle, but where it goes from there is a bit odd. I really think the film would have worked better without the grandfather element, as it ties Max down to some kind of family. The choice he makes in randomly robbing people is really kind of selfish and immature given the position he was in before. It’s a very original concept to be sure, but it all just doesn’t really gel. Add to the fact there’s a lot of odd moments in the film that don’t work either and you end up with a very uneven and poorly paced film.
But, you may ask, how can the film be so poorly paced if it runs under an hour and a half? Well the first act of the film is so fast paced and so hectic in visuals and storytelling that it’s hard to figure out just where the film is eventually headed. Then, like a failed trap by the Coyote to catch the Road Runner, the film suddenly smacks into a wall, stumbles backwards, and falls to the floor. The story disintegrates into the men, now flushed with cash, looking for women and…it’s just an odd film to describe. It almost would play better as a TV series, as it splits itself so deeply in two that it seems like two separate stories.
Add to the element that we don’t really ever see why we should care for Max or any of his friends and you get a very tumultuous film. They’re all painted as rather selfish morons who simply do nothing with their day; which is fine, I suppose, as Brad Pitt certainly made that role work for him in True Romance with great success. But at least you could kind of get a sense of who that character was; here we just get three guys with nearly the same personality, doing all the same things and not really redeeming themselves in any way.
I wanted to enjoy this film, if only because it looked funny and original. I love dark comedies but it’s such a hazardous category to work in as they rarely pay off. Sadly this film is another one of its many “failed” attempts, although the indie music that accompanies the film is probably some of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long while. In the end the film is worth a Rental as it has some funny bits, some interesting direction and a killer soundtrack…but other than that you’ll be hard pressed to get anything of value out of this one.
New Video NYC brings the disc to DVD in a single amaray case. Nothing special about this presentation, the film looks fairly solid being a new transfer and all, although there is some odd differences in video quality at times (likely due to the “robbery” sequences being shot with film and the remainder of the film shot in HD). Overall the video is good, but it’s the audio that makes the most impact with, once again, the films soundtrack making for the most enjoyable aspect of the set.
Cast and Crew Interviews
The deleted scenes are pretty throw-a-way, but the interviews weren’t bad. I think what made the film as entertaining as it was was due to the rapport the actors had with one another, which is explored a bit in the interviews.
Overall a decent DVD release for a film that few have heard of. I would’ve liked a piece on the soundtrack for the film, but it’s hard to be too disappointed by the minor extras on this release. Fans will likely just be glad it’s finally available after all of these years. Worth a Rental.
Skills Like This is now available on DVD.