Review: THE MISGUIDED (2018), a commendable first attempt at crafting something ambitious and realistic
The Misguided tries to be many things at once: a romance, a story about drug-dealing and the dangers that await those who choose to navigate the seedy underbelly of Perth, Australia, as well as the tale of two brothers who fall for the same girl. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really know how to juggle all these storylines at once, which results in a suitably involving, yet muddled viewing experience. Writer-director-producer-editor Shannon Alexander is ambitious in his intentions; maybe a little too ambitious.
The premise of The Misguided is full of potential. Caleb Galati plays Levi, our unemployed main character crashing at his drug-dealing and all-around lunatic half-brother Wendel’s (Steven J. Mihaljevich), house while desperately trying to find a job. Everything changes when Wendel’s ex-girlfriend, Sanja (Jasmine Nibali) stops by the house to pick up her car, which he “borrowed” and planned to sell to a chop shop.
Levi helps Sanja get the car back, and after some small-talk and flirting, they seemingly fall in love. Since Wendel doesn’t seem to be willing to stop his self-destructive ways, our star-crossed lovers start making plans to leave town; but there’s a small problem. Wendel owes a lot of money to a drug dealer he was distributing for, and tries to convince his half-brother to help him out. Will Levi choose family or love?
Alexander has a great concept in his hands, but sadly doesn’t do as much as he could have with it. The Misguided seemingly involves the criminals and scum of Perth, but for some reason, doesn’t develop any sense of danger or seedy atmosphere through the story. On the contrary, the film feels a little too clean, a little too naive, and the characters never really seem to be struggling with anything, despite the fact that they say they are. They live in lush houses, they drive fancy cars, and they apparently take money for granted. It’s a curious contradiction, considering one of the protagonists is supposed to be desperately looking for a job (although we never really see him try).
Even Wendel, who is supposed to be this awful and violent drug dealer, is a little too handsome and looks too healthy for a crack-cocaine addict. Mind you, Steven J. Mihaljevich’s performance is actually pretty great; he gets the pure rage that sometimes blinds the character, and actually makes for a pretty compelling villain. But his struggles —including the aforementioned debt— never feel particularly urgent or desperate. The film in general is a little too casual for its own good; a movie of this sort should generate suspense and build up some dramatic momentum, but The Misguided presents its plot and characters very matter-of-factly.
The rest of the performances are a mixed bag. Jasmine Nibali’s Sanja and Caleb Galati’s Levi are supposed to be in love, but the chemistry between the actors is not intense enough for their romance to be credible. Yes, they say a lot to each other, and the dialogue is actually good (they make a good use of Australian slang, which goes a long way to make the characters sound natural), but they don’t seem to be feeling a whole lot. Their line delivery is, for the most part, pretty flat, and they even look uncomfortable when kissing. One never really gets to know why Sanja is falling for Levi; quite frankly, he seems to be a boring, passionless dude, and their relationship begins too suddenly. Athan Bellos (a dead ringer for Mark Strong) is scary as Viktor (Jasmine’s dad), although his sudden mood swings can be a little confusing.
Understandably, The Misguided’s marketing has been playing up Katherine Langford’s (Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why) participation; she’s the most famous member of the cast and, along with Mihaljevich, gives the strongest performance. Sadly, though, her character, Vesna (Sanja’s sister) doesn’t have much to do, and actually takes part in many of the film’s filler scenes. Consider, for example, a brief moment in which we see her having a swim in her dad’s pool. It comes out of nowhere, and as far as I can tell, doesn’t really say anything about the characters, their situations, or the plot itself. As limited as her participation may be, though, she’s delightful, and actually injects some energy into the story.
Even though not all the performances work, the characters still manage to catch the viewer’s attention thanks to Alexander’s dialogue work. He understands young —or college-ready— people, and although some of these actors may be a little stiff, they, for the most part, manage to sound really natural. Interactions between Sanja and her parents can be darkly hilarious due to her unexpected and slightly rebellious attitude —she treats them more as friends than as “mum and dad”, as some teenagers do—, and the way Wendel treats everyone, from his half-brother to the girls in his life, really help selling him as a dirty bastard. There’s a lot of chit-chat and small talk in The Misguided, and surprisingly enough, they help establishing this world as something closer to reality than to Hollywood-style fiction or fantasy.
Visually, The Misguided is not half-bad, since it actually makes one want to go to Perth and do some sight-seeing (which, considering the film’s plot, is actually a little contradictory). Alexander certainly knows how to utilise his locations to their fullest capacity, making a good use of landscape shots to establish mood and give a little breather to the movie’s pacing, as as well as some long ones during conversations. He doesn’t overuse close-ups or long lenses; it’s common to see out-of-focus backgrounds in a lot of indie movies, since they apparently make the shots look “better”, but Alexander seems to know this isn’t always the case. The cinematography is competent —although a couple of night shots are a little grainy— and editing (also done by Alexander) gives the picture a slow, dreamy pace. It might not be for everyone, but it certainly goes well with this particular story.
The Misguided doesn’t live up to its full potential, but that doesn’t mean it’s a disappointment or a failure. Yes, some of the performances are weak, and yes, the picture lacks atmosphere and that sense of desperation and danger that should be palpable in a story full of crime and drugs, but both Steven J. Mihaljevich and Katherine Langford do solid jobs, and Shannon Alexander is adept enough both with his camera and his words, to make up for some of the movie’s more glaring flaws. The Misguided is a flawed-yet-interesting effort from a man seemingly capable of doing it all —from directing to writing to producing and editing—, and a commendable first attempt at crafting something ambitious and realistic.