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Killer Diller (Bulwark Entertainment, Not Rated)

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The plot is predictable in a comfortable way, allowing the story to become secondary to the relationships. Lee’s transformation from hoodlum to bandleader and friend to Black’s autistic boy is the highlight of the dramatic action, but other subplots and secondary characters round out the tale.

 

killer_diller_blues_band.jpgDisclaimer—I worked as the best boy grip on this film, but asking a grip to review a movie is like asking a bus boy to review a restaurant, objectivity is easily maintained because there is no emotional attachment.

Based on a book by Clyde Edgerton and shot in rural Missouri, Killer Diller inspires by weaving music and its power into a tale of friendship and redemption. Fred Willard runs a halfway house for teenagers using music and Christianity to reform the at-risk youth. William Lee Scott shows up and shakes things up. He transforms the band by adding an autistic piano player, Lucas Black, and the spirit of the blues, while transforming the other characters by imbuing them with self-respect, through a common goal and camaraderie.

The plot is predictable in a comfortable way, allowing the story to become secondary to the relationships. Lee’s transformation from hoodlum to bandleader and friend to Black’s autistic boy is the highlight of the dramatic action, but other subplots and secondary characters round out the tale. W. Earl Brown plays Black’s father who must let him out into the world and in doing so must learn to trust Scott. The other members of the band come to trust and protect one another. The only aspect that falls flat is Willard’s battle to keep his halfway house funded. It a bit is underdeveloped and too neatly resolved.

The success of the film hinges on two factors the music and the performances and both come through fantastically.

The film soars with the music. Once the band comes together and the lets the music guide it, the movie takes flight with the stage shows. An excellent soundtrack buoys the film. The blues powers the piece both literally and thematically. The film not only creates musical powerhouses, it applies them masterfully. Director Tricia Brock uses the music to reveal character, advance the plot, and create dramatic tension. She weaves the musical pieces into the film integrating them perfectly into the fabric of the script.

Beyond the music, Killer Diller succeeds with tremendous performances. William Lee Scott succeeds as Wesley the troubled youth that alternately brings the band together and tears them apart. Scott is likable even when Wesley is making bad decisions. He grounds not only his character, but the movie, and plays the internal struggle of Wesley without overplaying the emotions, slowly letting his vulnerabilities show, naturally allowing Wesley to evolve and come to terms with his own demons.

Lucas Black plays the autistic piano player, Vernon. His character is more of a catalyst than a person and often a bit one-note, but it is what it is and Black does handle the role with sensitivity and enthusiasm. While Vernon is never intended to be a dynamic character he does start to show signs of coming out of his shell and Black portrays those signs nicely.

Brown is perfect as Black’s father, walking a tight line between over the top redneck lout and touching caring father. Brown’s performance justifies the main character’s anger, resistance, and eventual transformation. His wild hostility is tempered by Brown’s subtle gestures that show it is all out of love. Brown is a man lost; he is beyond his realm in caring for his special needs son. His bluster is born of frustration and love not bile and bitterness, but this is only revealed through Brown’s stunning layered interpretation.

Niki J. Crawford is a killer rising talent providing both quality acting and outstanding vocals. Playing a reluctant diva, Crawford nails both the technical aspects of the singer and the subtle qualities of the character. Ronreaco Lee and Lawrence Lowe provide sublime comic relief and dramatic support. Their timing allows Scott and Black to play to their full potential. Fred Willard and John Michael Higgins have fun as rival brothers protecting their turf in a small town college. Most of the comic relief comes from these two. Higgins is quickly gaining the ability to steal shows with his total commitment to a role. Finally, Taj Mahal provides a spiritual link to the past, and some awesome guitar riffs.

Overall a quality piece of ensemble acting in a nice story with several killer songs. Killer Diller should find an audience with music lovers, families, and anyone who enjoys second chances.

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