reviewed by Anthony Selbitschka
Indy movie or not, Shoot-Out (2005) offers some of the best basketball cinematography I’ve ever seen on screen. Unfortunately, it’s just that: a stylistic basketball movie and not much else.
First off, kudos must go out to the two actors in this short film, Tyshawn Bryant and Daniel Sol for actually playing the game. When the camera captures their jumpers, the ball actually goes in the hoop without the help of editing. Oh, you don’t believe how long I’ve waited for this! Nope, the classic shot/cut/swish directorial approach of getting the ball into the hoop is not used in this film. Not once. Let’s just pause a moment and applaud Shoot-Out for that accomplishment. (For an example of this phenomenon, I refer you to “Teen Wolf,” “Flubber,” a few episodes of “Happy Days,” and other crappy basketball films.)
The plot is simple: “House” Washington (Bryant), a basketball hustler who never loses on “his” court, is challenged by a successful business man, J.C. Matado for a game of one-on-one. Matado ups the ante from the usual $1000; he wants Washington to bet his life. While the payoff could be huge for Washington as Matado offers his entire estate on the other end of the bet, Washington reminds himself that he has a wife and kid depending on him at home.
This is where the movie loses me. Bryant and Sol perform a convincing smack-talk showdown on the bet-making process. Matado tries to push Washington into the bet, but Washington barks back with strong resistance, again referring to his family. Through this verbal barrage of hostility and fear, I became sympathetic to House as I knew he should walk away from the bet. The shouting match continues until… a quick-cut to the start of the match! Wha? What did I miss? Where and WHY did House decide to play? Matado did show his gun to Washington, but really never said, “Play or die.” In a film where the cinematography and editing were top-notch, this one scene sticks out as clumsy. Life is on the line here, and Washington’s motivation to play should have been made clearer.
Now, the heart of the film: the basketball match. Brutally shot in black and white, the action is superbly shot and well-played. As the game progresses, the players resort to harder and harder play as each player is battling for his life. Director David Branin and director of photography Ivan Rodriguez capture the art of basketball better than any Nike commercial or any And-1 mix tape. One problem, though, is that amid all the style and action, the audience is in danger of losing track of the score; that is, until the score is abruptly printed on the screen toward the end of the match. It’s a nitpicky point; but again, when the rest of the film is so polished, it sticks out.
There’s a pivotal scene off the court that allows Bryant and Sol to show that they are actors as well as basketball players as their characters aptly switch from arrogant to desperate to scared-to-death. This scene is well shot and brilliantly executed, but again, the script doesn’t seem to match up to its players’ potentials.
All in all, Shoot-Out is a nice showcase of the acting talents of Sol and Bryant as well as the directorial skills of Branin and Rodriguez. I would love to see more from this troupe in the future; what they did with fifteen minutes and a tiny budget is very promising. As a movie in itself, however, I was left feeling flat. I just couldn’t buy into the life-or-death basketball showdown or the ironic twists that seemed stapled onto the end. Okay, so my sports analogy will go like this: Shoot-Out made the playoffs, but suffered a first-round exit... OR how about: Shoot-Out played hard for three quarters, but couldn’t come up clutch at the end?... Or they were money from the J’, but needed points in the paint?...