–Review by William M. Crouch
We live in a divisive time. Any story, image, or thought posted in the era of social media is subject to ridicule and contempt from various angles. The American spirit of ingenuity and moral fortitude have been discarded in favor of a take-no-prisoners brand of directness, one which gives little regard to such fleeting notions as empathy. We must say what we mean in as few words as possible. Moreover, we often must speak over others to be heard. In response, shots are often fired, literally and figuratively. The age of civil discourse seems long behind us. For this reason, a film like Four Points is not merely a change, but a welcome and refreshing one.
Four Points follows the story of four unique individuals summoned by the President-elect to debate hot-topic social issues. If the four can agree on a stance on any particular point, it will serve as the official policy of the President and the contestants will split a cash prize. The challenge, however, requires the four to wear lie-detecting bracelets, thus requiring that they honestly believe in the policies they propose. Moreover, they must come to consensus on all topics within a given time-frame, forcing them to carefully budget their debate time. Unanimity proves to be a difficult task among four very different individuals.
The film opens with a very carefully orchestrated long take, providing a visual aura of wonder and mystery that can also be palpably felt in the performances of the arriving personalities. As the group moves inside and to the table where they will debate several issues, each character is granted an opportunity to speak their mind on certain issues. Each character slowly develops and unfolds with each new response. The strong performances of a terrific ensemble cast carry the viewer through a thirty-minute safari of discovery. Each actor is granted a few moments of spotlight, presenting a devil’s advocate view that creates a new dynamic to the character and often leads them away from their stereotypical expectation. The performances of all four leads (Michael J. Patterson, Chad Eric Smith, B. Cherie Patterson, and Melan Perez) shine in these moments, with heavy notes of implication and melodrama guiding audience connection. Inside, the camera becomes less invasive and more objective. The audience becomes a voyeur, viewing some political version of Saw as the characters struggle through internal tortures, struggling to free themselves from difference long enough to claim the prize they seek.
The constant conflict between a desire to agree and a predisposition to one’s self creates intermittent peaks and valleys of tension. The pacing rides these waves with ease and delivers a story grounded more in asking questions than providing answers. The film itself leaves its viewers with a series of questions that bring you no closer to understanding the personal views of writer/director Cadell Cook than you knew before watching. The greatest strength of Four Points is in the interior monologue it creates within the audience members rather than the exterior dialogue of the film. The story merely sets the scene for more discussion. For this reason, Four Points was made for the film festival theater, where like-minded film enthusiasts could discuss multiple points of contention with civility. It is a film that prompts the courteous art of debate in a manner forgotten by the modern era. Four Points looks at our society and asks, “how can we work together when we cannot agree on anything?” The film is not so bold as to hammer home dogmatic preaching, to its great merit. Instead, as the screen fades to black, the audience must grapple with the many questions left unanswered by the film. Ultimately, the rallying cry of this film may be – the cost of difference is that we can never be the same.
Four Points inspires discussion, if not action. It is a film designed to point fingers in all directions and none at once rather than spewing polarized views. The performances of all four characters evolve gradually, yet realistically from start to finish. You cannot help but see the world from different angles while watching this film, and that may make each viewer a more tolerant, well-rounded person, if only for a few minutes after. Perhaps the ending message is not so hard to understand. Instead of leaving with questions and contesting viewpoints, we should leave with an important recollection. Opinions are individual, we all have them and they are all different. But truth is truth. The truth that we are all people, that we are all shaped by our experiences and desire what is good and just in our eyes. Four Points reminds us what it is to be human; that we want to thrive together but cannot if we only focus on our differences.
Still images courtesy of “Four Points,” copyright 2018.