Making a film can be a hard, grueling process. You need to find the right director, a good script and a cast that can truly grab a hold of the audience. Cellmates, a genre-bending independent comedy written and directed by relative newcomer Jesse Baget, manages to accomplish all that and more by pushing the limits of everyone involved.
“This movie started as a challenge for my writing partner and I. We wanted to create a horrible, despicable character that you end up rooting for in the end,” Baget told Press Pass LA.
The movie tells the story of Leroy Lowe, the Grand Dragon of the Texas Klu Klux Klan in the early 70’s. After being sentenced to three years of hard labor on a work farm, Lowe’s ideas of right and wrong are suddenly put questioned as he becomes cellmates with a wrongly accused Mexican immigrant and finds himself falling in love with a Spanish maid.
The character of Lowe was by far the most crucial and needed a careful hand to get just the right tone of comedy and drama. Baget’s choice of Tom Sizemore was a perfect fit. For those unaware, Sizemore recently spent time in rehab for methamphetamines and multiple arrests, after a tumultuous year he is just now getting back to work. “This is the first movie I’ve done sober,” explains Sizemore.“Making this film was both harder and easier sober. I never would have been able to do it while I was on drugs but at the same time I was now so burnt out I had to practice the lines over and over and over again which is something I didn’t have to do before.”
He admits that his recent jail time and a growing reputation in Hollywood helped give him a unique perspective on the role. “You can make mistakes and people can change, but they have to really want to,” he says.
At the other end of the spectrum is his cellmate Emilio, played by Mexican actor Hector Jimenez. Emilio is written as almost entirely comic relief and Jimenez pulls it off well. Sadly, the director does not give him enough room to move in the story so that he can interact with other character besides Lowe. This is a shame because the character’s sense of innocence is refreshing in the otherwise depressing prison environment.
It should be noted that although Jimenez and Sizemore are the lead actors in the film it is the character of Madalena that truly stands out. As the maid for the prison warden she has almost no speaking lines except in voiceovers, a difficult task for any actress. But the level of depth that actress Olga Segura brings to the character is astounding. Considering this movie marks her first time on screen expect to see a lot more of the beautiful Segura in the near future.
If the film falters it is only in its confusing style and tone. While it is supposed to tae place in the 1970’s for whatever reason Baget chose to use mostly turn of the century Americana music that, while it does fit the stark surroundings of the movie, has a tendency to take the viewer out of the proposed time period. There are moments where it could just as easily be an O Brother Where Art Thou? sequel. But just when you’ve got a handle on it the style switches again to something more surreal that almost clashes with the scene before it. A level of consistency would have made what is already a good film a truly great film.