When I stumbled - almost accidentally - onto the Safdie brothers' breakout film 'Good Time', I was hit with an exhausting and nightmarish descent into chaos and darkness that I had never really experienced in a film before. These character-driven gritty thrillers are a rarity, even more so are the thrillers that are actually good and wonderfully put together. David Victori's ('That Pact') 'Cross The Line' is absolutely that - a feverish journey that sees a well-mannered and good-natured man not necessarily turn bad, but be driven into a hell he could never have foreseen.
'Cross The Line' opens on Dani (Mario Casas, 'Witching and Bitching') caring for his sick father, playing a game of chess with him, and then going off to buy a pack of cigarettes. Everything we need to know about Dani's nature is set in the opening minute of the film, and as Victori holds the frame on Dani when the realisation of his father's passing engulfs him, it's Dani's control and care that really shine through.
While still keeping a calm head and going about his life as an underappreciated travel agent, his sister Laura (Elisabeth Larena) kindly gifts him a round-the-world ticket as a thank you for being there for the family in a way she never could. Dani has already said his farewell to Laura, but just as he is on the cusp of booking his first trip, he meets Mila (Milena Smit), a gorgeous and free-spirited girl who is as magnetic as she is unstable. Dani was always encouraged by those closest to him to start taking chances and take leaps in his life. However, this chance encounter will lead Dani on a night he will never forget, and this seemingly adventurous and wild night culminates in Dani living through a nightmare he never realised was possible.
Victori crafts an engrossing journey through Dani's night, taking audiences on the ride to wherever Dani's decisions next lead him. Unfortunately for Dani, he's on a barbed wire canoe going up all the wrong creeks, against all the worst tides. Victori wonderfully captures a man who is so far out of his depth, and yet, the director somehow manages to completely subvert the audience's expectations. Some of Dani's decisions, whenever he is at a crossroad, will make audiences squirm with discomfort, while others will guide audiences to encourage Dani, pat him on the back and say, "Yeah, that makes sense, it's what's best." That steep demise in morality feels so natural, and that is a huge credit to the creative team, and of course Casas himself. We sympathise and want everything to be okay for him, but the paths he is carving make for difficult viewing.
Gone are the pretty sun-soaked streets of Spain that audiences are accustomed to in the lavish European romances. Rather, Victori places his actors in gritty, neon-drenched back alleys, and it's the perfect environment for the nightmares that continuously chase Dani at every turn. Even at the night's beginning when Mila presents a wild - albeit it unhinged - adventure for Dani to pursue, nobody could predict the extent of the damage this will eventually cause.
Gone are the pretty sun soaked streets of Spain that audiences are accustomed to in the lavish European romances. Rather, Victori places his actors in gritty, neon soaked back alleys, and it's the perfect environment for the nightmares that continuously chase Dani at every turn.
In her first film appearance, Smit is exceptional as Dani's demon tour guide to hell. Her rawness, sensuality and magnetism make it impossible for Dani to turn away, but it's her embrace of the madness that really allows her to shine. We are never completely at ease with her and how she treats Dani, but just like she does with him, Smit's power is that we are completely enamoured with her, even if we know the dangers that are bound to follow.
Yet this is Casas' film, and the way he carries himself throughout is truly remarkable. A lesser performance would have lost the sympathy we needed to follow the journey, and anything too emotional wouldn't have allowed for audiences to be taken on his moral demise.
My only real problem with this film is the ending, which I feel confused an "open-ended" finale with a "non-finale". That being said, I haven't stopped thinking about it and it opens up some great discussions, so maybe time has proven it was the right choice.
As 'Good Time' become a breakout hit for the Safdies that propelled them to mainstream attention, so too I hope this does the same for Victori. This film really deserves to be seen, and I encourage viewers to try and watch it on the big screen. These great thrillers are rare, and with a friendly runtime of 90 minutes, don't find an excuse to miss it.