Buzzard | Joel Potrykus | USA | 2014 | 98 minutes
Buzzard follows the pathetic Marty (Joshua Burge), a bank intern who spends his time pulling small scale scams. His latest and biggest scam leads to waves of paranoia that causes him to skip town and get into some serious shit.
During the first ten minutes of Buzzard I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I hated the main character and how the rest of the film was going to suck to watch. Marty is a pathetic, self-centered, sneaky prick who wines constantly, mostly about his job. He whines about working at First National Bank while ripping them off wherever he can.
I guess you could call him a con-artist, but that may give him too much credit. The stuff he pulls isn’t especially intelligent, just a little ballsy. For instance, the opening scene takes place at a different branch of First National where he is trying to close his checking account in order to open it a minute later for the 50-dollar bonus. The whole scene is a stagnant close up of him, not sweating or uneasy, but calmly explaining to the clerk that he is on a 3 hour lunch break and is just trying to get 50 bucks out of them.
He is a jerk to his coworkers, especially Derek (played by director Joel Potykus), who considers him a friend. No one at work is mean to him, and the job doesn’t seem that bad. So the reason for him being a dick seems to be that he is inherently unpleasant. During the first part of the film I couldn’t wait for something bad to happen to Marty.
And then he is confronted with his biggest scam opportunity, cashing returned checks. He learns from his mother that he can sign over another person’s check to himself. After being given a pile of checks written out to other people, and after being called a chicken by Derek, he cashes a few and pockets the rest for later.
The film then becomes a lot more playful, funny and entertaining, and I start to enjoy watching Marty.
His first flash of paranoia comes after comments from his boss about the checks. He asks Derek if he can stay in his basement, which Derek calls his “Party Zone.” Marty ends up spending the next week or so there without ever leaving the house. Their interactions during this time are what I assume teenage boys do together when there are no prospects of girlfriends: play video games, chug mountain dew, eat Bugles, and whack each other with toy light sabers and homemade gaming gloves.
These are the most enjoyable scenes of the film, even though they do little to move the plot forward. Their interactions were simple, causal and seemingly effortless. Maybe Burge and Potrykus do these things together in their real lives. I don’t know how they came up with the Bugle treadmill scene, but it is hilarious.
The second shift in tone happens after Marty finally leaves Derek’s apartment. He ate all the hot pockets and goes to buy some at a convenient store where he gets in a fight with the cashier. Marty gets another flash of paranoia when he sees that he is on camera, and after beating up Derek, he leaves town.
Where the film goes from here is dark, tense and sometimes hard to watch. I know I said I wanted something bad to happen to him in the beginning, but during the last third of the film I just wanted him to go home. Everything escalates so quickly. It’s one of those scenarios that could have been resolved easily in the beginning, but instead Marty keeps getting himself deeper and deeper into the hole he is digging.
Even though the main character is intolerable at times, and even though the film obviously had a small budget and often felt overly scripted, the film is impressive. Most notably, they were able to make some beautiful and smart shots with low production costs simply but concentrating on Marty’s face for extended periods of time in close-ups.
A lot of the film is centered around a gaming glove that Marty is making that kind of resembles Wolverine’s hand, with sharp blades coming out of each finger. Every time Marty interacts with this glove it begins hidden from the audience only to make a grand entrance.
Early on Marty sits on the kitchen floor, hunched over and with his back to the camera. We see him frantically picking at something, but have no idea what. When this happens again later, the glove finally appears. By blocking the on-screen space, and hiding what is being handled, the revelation of the toy glove (or perhaps better described as a weapon) becomes a recurring surprise throughout the film.
I hated the Buzzard in the beginning, but it slowly grew on me and at the end I loved it. I didn’t like Marty much more, I actually kept thinking about how I’d hate to have someone like him in my life. Not to give too much away, but the end message is not a very good one. But Marty goes through a lot, and at times you can tell he is affected by what he has done. So maybe, just maybe, Marty learned a lesson and stopped being such a whiny jerk.
Check out other Missed Madison Film Festival reviews posted throughout the day:
James Kreul on The Tribe and Chris Lay on Christmas, Again here at Madison Film Forum.
Grant Phipps on Blind at LakeFrontRow.
Ani Biswas on The Mend at WUD Film Presents.
Four Star Video Podcast discusses Black Coal, Thin Ice.