Howdy, y’all! I’ve got a review and interview for a new crime thriller coming out this week from the creative mind of Scott Caan (OCEANS ELEVEN franchise, CBS’s “Hawaii Five-0”) called ONE DAY AS A LION. In the film, penned by Caan, Scott plays Jackie Powers, a former con who finds himself taking on a hit job so he can make enough money to get his son a lawyer after the latter has run afoul of the law. It doesn’t go well and things soon spiral out of control, stirring up a shitstorm of bad news in the otherwise relatively quiet state of Oklahoma. The cast is rounded out by Taryn Manning (Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black”), Virginia Madsen (CANDYMAN, HOT TO TROT), Marianne Rendón (CHARLIE SAYS), George Carroll (THE TOWN), Frank Grillo (CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD), and J.K. Simmons (SPIDER-MAN, JUNO). Here’s a trailer:
This film starts out with a tragicomic tone that’s largely reminiscent of the nineties crime capers like 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY, ZERO EFFECT, GROSSE POINTE BLANK, or THURSDAY. Caan’s Jackie is a lovable loser who is punching up past his weight limit and is soon in over his head. After he botches an assassination attempt on Simmon’s Walter Boggs, he kidnaps a waitress that witnessed the ordeal and sets out in a panic. He hits a dead end right off but luckily for him the waitress is a sociopath who is set in with Stockholm Syndrome almost immediately and cooks up a scheme to weasel the money out of her dying miserly mother (Madsen). His bosses come down to try to smooth things over with Boggs and deal with Jackie, and soon everyone is punching everyone and bullets start flying.
Caan’s script is colorful and energetic, even if some of the caper elements seem a bit too convenient. Caan, himself, is mesmerizing in the role of Jackie, and even when we pity him or revile him we still can’t help but like him and want him to succeed (or at least not die). He has a great Save the Cat moment witnessed by Lola that guarantees that we’ll stay on his side. Grillo is impressive as the put-upon crime boss Pauly Russo; he crackles with intensity as his empire crumbles around him due to the actions and ineptitudes of lieutenants and though it’s hard to watch it’s still fun to see. Here he draws out the frustration we saw in his character of Bobby O’Neill from THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD only this film is a much better watch. John Swab seems to understand the spirit and inspiration in Caan’s script and gives the film the flair of a nineties caper with the credibility and sound characters that THWB lacked.
One of my favorite aspects of this film is the big heartfelt moment towards the end, which takes on a tone of metacommentary that I won’t spoil so that you can enjoy it, as well.
I had the chance to talk to director John Swab about making the film and bringing the cast together, filming in Oklahoma, and a surprise easter egg after the credits had rolled.
Eric McClanahan - Hey John, how are ya?
John Swab - Good, Eric, how are you doing?
EM - I’m well, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today.
JS - Of course, man. Thanks for watching the movie and wanting to talk to me.
EM - My pleasure. I watched the movie last night. It’s a lot of fun, a lot more comical than I thought it would be. It reminded me a lot of the independent crime thrillers of the mid-nineties, so I immediately want to ask what your influences are? What films did you see that made you say “Man, I gotta make movies!”
JS - You know, those movies that you’re talking about, that you referenced. Those independent thrillers of the nineties. The BLOOD SIMPLEs, the RESERVOIR DOGS, the Greg Araki movies, the Jim Jarmusch movies. You know, all those kinds of films that were the new New Hollywood. You know the seventies had that class that kind of reinvented movies and then I feel like the nineties were a second wave of that, and I was kid watching those movies and they were it for me. That’s what made me want to do this.
EM - What was it like for you to film in your home state of Oklahoma and bring that Big City crime thriller into Oklahoma?
JS - You know, this was my tenth movie in Oklahoma, so it was a natural transition to film here, and changing the script from L.A. to Oklahoma was pretty seamless, as well. I love filming here; it’s where I’m from and I know it like the back of my hand, and I feel like I can photograph it as well as anybody, and I take a lot of pride bringing film here and involving people in the community in that, as well.
EM - This film really does seem like Scott Caan’s baby; writing the script and playing the lead. How did you come on board? Did he seek you out or was there an audition process?
JS - Yes and no. His agent is friendly with my manager and producer, Jeremy [M. Rosen], and he reached out to Jeremy with this script from Scott. I don’t think there was any initial intention for me to direct or they didn’t have an idea of who would direct at all but he saw Jeremy as someone who could get it done. Jeremy read it and liked the script, talked to Scott and liked him. Somewhere in their conversations my name came up and Scott mentioned he’d seen a film of mine called IDA RED and really enjoyed it. From there, we were introduced and had a talk about what making the film together would look like and went from there.
EM - In looking over your filmography I have to ask: what do you have on Frank Grillo? An embarrassing photograph, his child in a basement? You get him for everything! What’s your relationship?
JS - Yeah, I met Frank on BODY BROKERS and we got along really well, then he came on to play Dallas Walker in IDA RED for us, and then Doc Alexander in LITTLE DIXIE, and Frank’s a great actor. Once you find somebody that you work well with it’s kind of a sin not to take advantage of that to the fullest extent and we’ve tried to do that.
EM - Agreed. There’s a post credits scene that’s a recreation of the earlier fight between Scott’s character Jackie and George Carroll’s Dom with a different actor as Dom. What was that about?
JS - That was, we did a raffle fundraiser here in Oklahoma during filming and anybody could enter and do a scene with Scott and this guy around town won and we let him give it a go and we filmed it and attached it to the end of the film as a little gag, an inside joke.
EM - It was interesting because it changed the physicality of the scene; the fight choreography was a bit more intricate in the “joke” scene than it was in the finished film.
JS - Yeah! It was a little bit more intense in that joke scene. The phone actually went into the wall, and it was a dicey situation, but we felt it was just so good on camera that we’d just throw it on the end of the movie just for the heck of it.
EM - It was a nice little surprise. I’m glad I stuck around for it. What are you working on next?
JS - I’m working on a movie called KING IVORY about the fentanyl epidemic and we’re set to shoot that in June and we’re pretty excited about it.
EM - Working with Scott Caan off his original script, what was your experience like in that regard? You said that Jeremy read the script and loved it but what was your first impression of the script?
JS - My first impression was that it was about thirty pages too long and we trimmed about twenty-five out and got it down to a lean, mean ninety and change, but I really liked the spirit of it. It had that nineties indie feel. That’s what I wanted to protect of it and ultimately what I was most interested in doing, was that [spirit] so, you know, making that kind of movie.
EM - What was the process of getting J.K. Simmons aboard?
JS - J.K. is a friend of Scott’s so in one of the many casting conversations we had we’d kick around ideas and Jeremy mentioned his name as a possible Walter Boggs and Scott said “Oh, I know J.K. I can give him a call.” So he called him and J.K. gave it a read and was gracious enough to come down and play Walter Boggs for us.
EM - So the film is releasing Tuesday, April 4th in select theaters and then to On Demand and Streaming Friday, April 7th. It has some thriller elements, some crime noir elements, some comedy elements. How would you describe this film to people to entice them to go out and see it?
JS - It’s a throwback movie. It’s a Movie; it’s not trying to say or be anything other than that and it’s just meant to be entertainment and it’s meant to be enjoyed. If you’re looking for that, this is for you.
EM - Excellent. Thank you so much for talking to me today and good luck with the film!
JS - Thank you, Eric.
ONE DAY AS A LION hits theaters tomorrow and streaming Friday. I give it four out of five broken fingers, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Take care and I’ll talk to you soon.
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-