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    A tri-umph

    "AKA" makes ingenious use of its three-screen format while telling the multiperspective story of a young man yearning to escape his brutish home and rise in the social world.


    Unlike Mike Figgis's groundbreaking "Timecode," in which four interrelated, uninterrupted stories unfolded in four quadrants of the movie screen, British writer/director Duncan Roy fashions a "triptych" approach to his autobiographical identity theft drama "AKA," with three frames — left, right, and center — presented on-screen simultaneously.

    Written and directed by: Duncan Roy.
    Cast: Matthew Leitch, Diana Quick, George Asprey, Lindsey Coulson, Blake Ritson, Peter Youngblood Hills, Geoff Bell, Camille Sturton, Daniel Lee, Bill Nighy, David Kendall, Fenella Woolgar, Sean Gilder, Robin Soans, Stephen Boxer, Neil Maskell, Reginald S. Bundy, Kathryn Pogson.
    Cinematography: Ingrid Domeij, Steve Smith, Scott Taylor, Claire Vinson.
    Edited by: Lawrence Catford, John Cross, Jackie Ophir.

    Related links: All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    The effect is visually challenging from a narrative standpoint and, like its creative cousin, nothing short of mesmerizing.

    In the left-hand frame we see a long shot of a young man conversing with his mother at the kitchen table. In the center frame, a close-up of Mum, shot simultaneously from a slightly different angle. And on the right side of the screen, a medium shot of Dad, moments later, storming up the stairs to his son's bedroom where the cowering boy braces for his wrath.

    By using this technique, Roy is able to control his story in ways not available to filmmakers who favor the traditional linear approach (and even those who don't — the non-chronological flashback and flash-forward methods used in such films as 21 Grams," "Memento," and "Pulp Fiction" to name a few). No, Roy has a distinct advantage here. With three lines of attack he is able to shape his film like no other. Varying angles of the same shot provide different perspectives. Close-ups and long shots highlight areas of interest not immediately obvious in the medium shot. Future scenes can be heralded, rightly so, while the drama plays out left and center (oftentimes aiding, or changing, one's interpretation of the present). Key scenes can be stressed or strengthened by repetition, or by overlapping dialogue. (It's to the director's credit that he uses the latter technique only sparingly.)

    All told, Roy can manipulate the drama to its ultimate end, fading the portions that may no longer apply, focusing our attentions on a particular scene, and/or following the story from one segment to another in order to move the drama forward.

    It also helps that his underlying narrative, with its "Talented Mr. Ripley"-like storyline, is intriguing and unquestionably powerful.

    Dean Page (Matthew Leitch) is a troubled teen who longs to break free of his working-class upbringing and make a name for himself. He has his sights set on college, but his ignorant, brutish father (Geoff Bell) is having none of it. Everything he needs is right there, in their cramped Romford semi, according to him.

    Dean and his father have many run-ins but there's more to it than a simple thrashing after dinner, as Dean's ineffectual mother (an excellent Lindsey Coulson), who works as a waitress at an upper-crust restaurant frequented by the likes of Lady Gryffoyn (Diana Quick), fills the family refrigerator with cling-filmed leftovers time after time. When Dad finally kicks Dean out of the house, the disaffected youth seeks out Lady Gryffoyn, whom he naively considers his mother's friend and, with the help of his boyish good looks, manages to secure a job at her prestigious art gallery.

    Due to the given privileges of his position (and more than a little direct insinuation), the covetous young opportunist assumes the identity of Lady Gryffoyn's gay son Alex and winds up being courted by high society on the continent, a status he so badly requires in order to gain the acceptance and love he has never felt.

    With "AKA," director Roy has crafted a compelling tale of human frailty and the hunger for power that's as bold visually as it is thematically. Here, at last, is a film that challenges in new and exciting ways.

    MARCH 21, 2004

    Reader comments on AKA:

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