“A vast land of almost-was and could-have-been, falling into a gray area where the positives and negatives cancel each other out, leaving a faint, unremarkable impression.”
by Ken Bakely
Now consider a movie like Mack Lindon’s Rise, which is pedestrian, dull, and resolutely lacking in originality or nuance, but is improved by solid acting and a clearly personal perspective. Its warm, syrupy undertone slips in and out, often cutting into its other mood, which is colder, directly character-driven, and much less sappy. In the end, neither perspective is fully realized, turning a potentially fascinating depiction of a real life story (one that happened to Lindon, no less) into a vast land of almost-was and could-have-been, falling into a gray area where the positives and negatives cancel each other out, leaving a faint, unremarkable impression. It’s a curious thing to watch, as the picture’s creative drive is seething with passion and what I presume is something resembling a clear vision, yet very few of these hypothetical high points make it over to the screen.
Rise tells the story of Will McIntyre (Nathan Wilson), a nurse who is falsely accused of rape. The trial itself is shaky to say the least, but the jury finds him guilty, and he is sentenced to six years in a maximum-security prison. His counsel immediately files an appeal, but in the meantime, Will has to move into the big house. The first few weeks are petrifying, as one would expect. Will is a mild-mannered, unsuspecting young man who has been thrust into an environment filled with dangerous criminals, some of which have committed crimes so horrific that they will spend the rest of their lives here. The facility – from the prisoners within up to the chief warden (Linda Millar) – initially freezes Will into a state of hopelessness. But soon, exposure to the people beneath the personas reveals a new set of events, even forging something of a friendship with a hardened, longtime inmate (Martin Sacks). Yet through this, Will eagerly awaits his appeal, desperately wishing that the legal system will free him and rectify the miscarriage of justice which has violently derailed his life.
A look at Rise’s production credits reveals the extent to which Lindon is involved with the production – writer, director, and producer. While he was reportedly surrounded with many professional consultants, this is decisively his film. This debut is chock-full of amateur mistakes from a narrative perspective, which translates into directorial missteps. The 107 minute movie has trouble focusing on what it is trying to emphasize, with the pivotal, consequential climax of the film given short shrift, shoved into the final quarter-hour, and a finale concentrating a slew of events into a two-minute glorified montage, complete with clichéd, overly obvious cues to denote the points it is trying to make. Lindon’s further insistence on bizarre visual choices, like an abundance of slow-motion shots scattered needlessly throughout, also take the edge off the total experience.
The one major strength which holds Rise above its shortfalls is a strong cast led by Nathan Wilson. With Will McIntyre, Wilson is given relatively little character background or history, yet is able to turn the role into that of an interesting protagonist, thrust into an unimaginable situation, and navigating it, never with an artificially strong or knowing disposition. It’s the kind of professionalism which the movie itself is never able to catch up to. While props must be given to Lindon for plunging into this with a) minimal prior experience in the craft, and b) such an autobiographical story, perhaps he should have given one or more of his hats to more storied individuals, who could have crafted the screenplay into a fresher, better-paced, and more memorable tale.