14th Sep2021

‘Small Engine Repair’ Review

by Kevin Haldon

Stars: John Pollono, Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Ciara Bravo, Jordana Spiro, Spencer House | Written and Directed by John Pollono

Well this going to be the shortest review I ever write… Small Engine Repair is as close to perfection as it gets. 5 out of 5. Told you shortest review ever… Actually I need to dig deeper into the film!

Based on a play of the same name written by director and leading man John Pollono, Small Engine Repair tells the story of Frank (Pollono), Swaino (Bernthal) and Packie (Whigham). Three friends from small-town nowhere that have always been there for each other. We first meet our boys as Frank’s daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo) has found out she is heading to university. One thing is for sure the love these men have for Crystal is unshakeable. After a night out to celebrate the bond between our boys becomes somewhat strained. We jump ahead a few months and a message from Frank brings the three friends back together to mend the friendship, but does Frank have other motives as the night takes a turn…

First of all before I hit performances I need to point out how gorgeous Small Engine Repair is. I assume the budget was fairly low here but cinematographer Matt Mitchell skilfully moves his camera with such affection and makes this look insanely beautiful, his light touching even some of the harshest small town landscapes. Accompanied by a great score with some low-key stirring undertones.

Writer, director and leading man John Pollono truly knows the Frank character, the ins and outs, so while it may have been easy to cast a more known name for the role to concentrate on directing I am so glad he didn’t. This movie doesn’t work without a perfect performance in the Frank role. There is a subtle brilliance needed because not only does Frank know more than his friends but he also knows more than us (the audience) sure we get an unnerving sense from time to time but thanks to Pollono we just don’t know.

All three of our leading men are superb and the chemistry is undeniable, you believe that after a big fallout it wouldn’t matter if it was 3 months, 3 years or 3 decades these guys would hook up like nothing ever happened… That’s rare and even rarer to see truthfully portrayed on screen like these guys have done.

Small Engine Repair, for my money, is up there as a career best for Jon Bernthal. It was awesome to see a role that he could really lose himself in and I was utterly convinced this was no longer Bernthal. The way Swaino is written and then delivered on screen became such an interesting multi faceted role that had me wondering all the way. Sometimes the most interesting aspect of a character is the one you develop in your head from the bread crumbs given but your never explicitly told. That’s what makes this script elite level and Bernthals performance next level.

Movies are a peculiar thing and it occurs to me that sometimes an actor can only work with what they are given. Take Shea Whigham, a couple of reviews back I wasn’t massively kind to his role in The Gateway and part of that is because I’m used to seeing good roles from the guy. As Packie he is superb and is the soul of the movie. I’m at the point now after this flick I’ll watch the guy in anything.

The Lynchpin of this group is daughter Crystal, played by Ciara Bravo, and I don’t care if you think I’m blowing smoke up this movies arse when I say that this young actress has star potential and is well on her way. What a performance. Check Bravo out in Amazon Prime’s Wayne. She is a talent.

It’s fairly obvious I’m a big fan of Small Engine Repair and that it hit me in all the right places. I’ve not got into plot all that much because honestly once we get passed the opening 10 minutes and we jump forward the movie is a slow burn darkly humorous psychological thriller told over the space of one night. A superbly written, well acted and perfectly executed slow burn that not only reflects sides of ourselves but touches on themes like toxic masculinity and the curse of social media… marvellous! All of this from a first time director that honestly feels like he is onto his 20th feature, unreal!

***** 5/5

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