Teddy Soeriaatmadja follows up the award-winning Lovely Man with this absorbing and shocking story of a young, porn-addicted taxi driver in Jakarta, who becomes fixated with the prostitute who lives across the corridor.
Dividing his time equally between attending Koran classes at the local mosque and furiously masturbating to porn - both at home and in his cab - young Ahmad's solitary existence is interrupted when he encounters a beautiful young passenger, Kinar. On discovering that she is his neighbour and also a street walker, Ahmad dedicates his nights to watching her work, offering her a ride when necessary, and attempting to intervene when trouble rears its head.
Comparisons between Something in the Way and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver are obvious and clearly intentional. From the extended periods of time Ahmad spends alone in his minimally furnished apartment, abusing himself or plotting his next move, to the long nights spent observing the city's underclass, the spectre of Travis Bickle looms over the proceedings.
Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive is another deliberate touchpoint for Soeriaatmadja, as is Tony Scott's True Romance to some degree. A number of key narrative beats from both films are echoed here, albeit in remarkably different surroundings. That said, Something in the Way retains a distinct identity, thanks in large part to Soeriaatmadja's aesthetic choices and reluctance to in any way glamourise the lifestyles of his characters. The environment in which these characters live is drab, impoverished and desperate, and the drama, action and performances remain muted throughout, even as the sense of danger and impending peril escalates.
Reza Rehadian and Ratu Felisha, who play Ahmad and Kinar respectively, deliver well-measured performances that remain engaging while projecting a world weary disenchantment with their own lives. It is refreshing to see in Ahmad a character whose routine is so largely dominated by the study of Islam, who is not a fundamentalist or radical in any religious way. While his behaviour is always somewhat antisocial and becomes increasingly violent and psychopathic as the film unfolds, it is never in the name of Allah, but rather in a misplaced ideal of heroism.
Something in the Way is one of the year's most important discoveries, in my humble opinion. It is a film with a clearly defined sense of place and community that operates on its own terms while also delivering enough genre beats to work as a recognisable thriller. It is open about its cinematic influences, without feeling the need to mimic them or draw attention to its own artifice. The result is an arresting descent into the Indonesian underworld that deserves a place alongside other recent genre works to emerge from this exciting region.