Directed by: Jonathan & Josh Baker
Screenplay: Daniel Casey
Based on: short film ‘Bag Man’ by Jonathan & Josh Baker
Produced by: Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen, Jeff Arkuss, David Gross, Jesse Shapira
Starring: Jack Reynor, Zoë Kravitz, Dennis Quaid, James Franco, Myles Truitt.
This film must have presented a challenge in terms of marketing, because while on one level it is clearly a reality-based drama about a dysfunctional family in peril, with a cross-country road trip and pursuit by a particularly unsavoury gang of criminals, it also has a puzzling science fiction component that functions almost as an afterthought. This aspect doesn’t sit smoothly within the context of loss, betrayal and growing up, not until the end when it eventually makes sense, but as if it was part of another film that somehow wondered into this one.
The directors wanted to explore the concept of family, what makes a person part of a larger group when biological connections aren’t always what cause people to stick together. At the heart of Kin is a working class family headed by a gruff widower Hal (Dennis Quaid in top form) trying to raise his adopted African-American son Eli (Myles Truitt) better than he managed with his own biological son Jimmy (Jack Raynor, balancing on a tightrope of nerves and regret), who has just been released from prison after six years. Eli isn’t coping well at school and spends most of his free time scavenging in abandoned buildings for copper pipes to sell as scrap metal. On one occasion he finds several armoured, masked bodies left behind after what looks like a very serious battle, as well as a really cool high-tech weapon that he souvenirs, not aware of its true origins.
Jimmy’s ‘family’ on the inside, meanwhile, was part of a criminal gang headed by the loathsomely evil Taylor (James Franco in a shocker of a mullet), who protected Jimmy for a steep price and who now expects full repayment of that debt. Broke, unemployed Jimmy can’t pay, of course, but hatches a desperate plan to do so, to spare his family from becoming involved. This is where the movie switches gears into a road trip across the desolate yet beautifully photographed southern states of America, with Jimmy and Eli rediscovering their connection as brothers after six years apart, while being relentlessly pursued by Taylor’s gang as well as by two mysterious, helmeted bad ass dudes on motor cycles.
This is where the science fiction aspect finally comes to the fore, having been hinted at periodically during the film, when Eli initially discovered the weapon, one which only he can operate. This weapon comes in handy during a series of increasingly irresponsible and violent acts perpetrated by Jimmy with Eli’s help. I found Jimmy’s cluelessness worrying, since despite his prison stint he doesn’t seem to have the first idea about how to lay low and keep off everyone’s radar, or take better care of his vulnerable younger brother.
There is a sequence towards the end of the film where both brothers end up in a local police station, and in many ways it plays out like a variation on a similar scene from The Terminator, right down to someone hiding under a police desk, but who can tell whether this was a deliberate homage or just coincidence.
A second viewing of Kin would probably help make a lot more sense of what is happening, and identify clues that were casually scattered throughout. The problem is that on a first viewing, the science fiction element just seemed added on, not effectively integrated into the rest of what is a very realistically presented chase drama. It’s a shame this film probably won’t find a larger audience, because those who are after a hard-core science fiction story will be frustrated by how sparingly this aspect is utilised, while those who like their dramas grittily realistic may be irritated by the seemingly randomly inserted science fiction elements.
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