Editor’s Note: This review has been republished. It originally posted with the rest of our reviews and coverage at Fantastic Fest this past September.
Even though it’s a slow-boil mystery, Man From Reno is film that engages quickly and keeps you transfixed. Like the hard-boiled detective films, and noir fiction which inspired it, Dave Boyle‘s involving story is layered with sly, pensive and effective reveals. Further, it’s punctuated by just the right amount of wrong elements that help keep us in suspense for the duration.
In San Francisco, hugely popular Japanese novelist Aki (played by Ayako Fujitani) becomes caught up in something more elaborate than one of her best-selling books. On a chance encounter, (or is it really as random as it seems?), Aki meets a mysterious man who shows up so conveniently that he seems taken right out of the pages of her famous Inspector Takabe novels. Things get more complicated as the fish-out-of-water element really works in the film’s favor.
Although Aki speaks perfect English, she is sucked into an ever creepier set of events and circumstances so far from her homeland. Clues, phone numbers, strange people, all wrapped around an expanding police investigation, it is very clear she’s in way over her head. But what can she do? She purposely left Japan for some much needed R&R. In fact, it was such a clandestine retreat that no one, save for her publisher, knows where she is. To make matters worse, the Japanese media thinks she’s missing, and so her publisher tells her to stay low because all this buzz is actually driving up book sales.
But even Aki’s experience writing mystery novels can’t prepare her for the characters she meets, and the strange situations in which she continually finds herself. Man from Reno has a very Hitchcockian feel to it (with echoes of The 39 Steps being the most notable, yet Boyle doesn’t try to copy any of his work) and Aki knows better than to trust anyone. Even if no one presents themselves as a foe, it doesn’t mean they are a friend either. Further, you just can’t know how long until each person brought into this thick and tangled web of mystery will wind up dead. It’s a murder mystery without all the mustache twirling contrivances of a proper whodunnit.
Each scene gets more complex as we, like Aki, are caught up in the big evolving plot. But, like The Usual Suspects, or, possibly, The Game, this is something you can’t figure out on your own. Aside from being a great mystery, Boyle’s film makes a fine recruiting video for law enforcement – especially with veteran actor Pepe Serna playing the aging, but still rather sharp and resourceful Sheriff. The film, because of the acting, the writing, and those jarring slow reveals, is just all kinds of cool. Add to that the slick and involving music, which really helps seam the scenes together, and Man From Reno is a sure-fire winner.
It’s such a great story that is so universal, you could take any of the elements and interchange them to work in any culture, country, setting, or time. Dave Boyle takes a sturdy, yet malleable, narrative framework, and builds on it ever so slightly. Further, he keeps his story about as low key as you can get and still keeps it interesting. In a cinematic sense, Man From Reno has all the qualities of a classic page turner. It’s not the kind of film you’d expect to find at Fantastic Fest, but a solid feature, and a welcomed one at that.