The dramatic potential in the Queen West area of Toronto is certainly very real. In this rapidly gentrifying hood, affluent young condo and loft dwellers are now living cheek to jowl with the hookers, junkies, homeless and mentally damaged. This volatile environment is at the very heart of the sardonically entitled This Beautiful City, coincidentally filmed just a block away from the recent fatal knifing of a passer-by at the hands of a group of panhandlers.
This is the feature film debut of writer/director/editor Ed Gass-Donnelly but he has achieved local repute as an award-winning theatre director and short filmmaker. This Beautiful City is actually based on a play by Gass-Donnelly (Descent), and it retains a bit of that quality the small cast of central characters, the limited number of locations. Hes not afraid to use cinematic weapons, however, and the inventive cinematography of Micha Dahan (a Juno-nominated music video director) is a strong point. The use of super 16mm film and the jerky hand-held approach of some of the scenes add to the movies gritty realism.
Thanks to the uniformly excellent work of the key actors, the no-holds-barred mandate (plenty of graphic sex and violence) makes for compelling viewing. Kristin Booth and Aaron Poole play Pretty and Johnny, the crack ho and junkie pimp living out their squalid lives in the graffiti-adorned alleys and slum hotel adjacent to the chic condo occupied by Harry and Carol (Noam Jenkins and Caroline Cave). The latters marriage is faltering and an apparent suicide attempt by Carol kick-starts a series of events leading to the films blood drenched conclusion. However, you need to suspend disbelief over the coincidental intersection of characters and incidents that culminate in the over-the-top climax, one that somewhat devalues the convincing power of the film to that point.
Worthy of note is the effective use of songs from some leading lights of the Canadian indie scene (Stars, Bry Webb, Andre Ethier, Sunparlour Players, and music supervisors FemBots). (Seville)