5lbs of Pressure (2024)

5lbs of Pressure Review

5lbs of Pressure

In the new mysteries of film finance, it isn’t a great aberration that “5lbs of Pressure” set in Manhattan was shot for some reason in Manchester, England. The con works on the surface Maybe the industrial English city is even more “gritty” than New York these days. But it could be part of the reason why Phil Allocco’s crime melodrama feels like it takes place in a semi-mythological movie genreland rather than a palpable, flesh-and-blood community. That may not cripple its violent thriller aspects, but it does limit our emotional engagement with what are essentially two-dimensional characters presented as tragic figures.

Named after the lethal force behind a handgun’s trigger release, “5lbs” spins an engaging-enough web of misunderstandings, grudges and doomed trajectories among various shady types. They intersect in a kind of neighborhood that hasn’t changed much since Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” half a century ago at least not in this rendering. An otherwise polished and colorfully populated enterprise, “5lbs” commands attention without making much lasting impact; we may still recall having seen something similar done better elsewhere. The problem is that Allocco’s dramatic personae are solely defined by their outer conflicts; we never really glimpse any inner life, or feel they’re connected to a world beyond hoodlum narrative formulas.

The film opens with mysterious gunfire inside a dive bar, then cuts back four days earlier to trace events leading to this point. Adam DeSalvo (Luke Evans) is coming up on the end of three years’ probation following 16 years behind bars for killing someone during a dumb turf-war flareup between young hotheads. He has kept his nose clean but is not seeking fresh pastures. Instead he has returned to old ones, though his presence may well tempt belated vengeance from those he once hurt most particularly Eli (Zac Adams), the brother of his late victim, as well as the latter’s histrionically-grieving mother (Olivia Carruthers).

Bunking in a friend’s storeroom and barely scraping by on barkeep wages, Adam is willing to take that chance in order to try to repair relations with his ex and their child. But Donna (Stephanie Leonidas) wants nothing to do with him. Adam is further chagrined to find that his teenage son Jimmy (Rudy Pankow) doesn’t even know he exists, living under the belief that Dad simply “abandoned” him and Mom long ago. Nevertheless stonewalled, Adam tries nonetheless to reestablish contact.

Meanwhile, the local climate of toxic machismo and organized crime that presumably first led astray has only intensified during the protagonist’s absence. Leff (Alex Pettyfer) is a drug dealer who has reluctantly hired dim-bulb nephew Mike (Rory Culkin) as his gofer. What Mike really wants is to make it as a rock musician a pipe dream shared with Eli, his best friend. Mike is stupid enough to think he might bankroll that fantasy by pulling off a big score then running around on watchful, unforgiving Leff.

Needless to say, that scheme isn’t going to pan out given the ruthlessness of other felonious figures played by Lorraine Burroughs and James Oliver Wheatley, once conflict heats up, Adam’s return will not go unnoticed in the neighborhood least of all by Eli, whose anger is already fraught thanks to constant strife with perpetually on-again/off-again girlfriend Lori (Savannah Steyn).

Every single interpersonal dynamic here is of the “Oh yeah?” variety. That wouldn’t feel so flat if they had demonstrable private sides, or were treated with some kind of occasional humor. But none of them are very complicated, and that includes Adam, who’s only painted as a remorseful nice guy with little suggestion of the wee hooligan he used to be.

The actors do what they can to keep things naturalistic, even when it’s menacing or grisly though a couple performers lean too far into stereotype. (Gary McDonald makes an impression as an enforcer doling out grievous ocular damage to tardy debtors.) But the ensemble rarely seems to suggest any non-pulp reality; still the film expects us to be touched by their assumed pathos.

This split personality is exemplified by DP Sara Deane’s color-noir visual atmospherics, often rich in stylized lighting effects, which clash with a climactic onslaught of unearned sentimentality: forced pleas against gun violence; a teary montage of flashbacks; back-to-back “sensitive” acoustic pop songs.

Those devices might fly in a dour street crime melodrama with the tragic depth of “Donnie Brasco.” They’re less successful in one that doesn’t get more plaintive than hard-boiled Donna grousing at her jailbird ex, “Ya got some balls ta come ovah heah.” Sufficiently entertaining as a yarn full of itchy trigger-fingers sure to claim several lives, “5lbs of Pressure” falls short when it asks us to feel those losses as anything beyond the standard toll of underworld melodrama.

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