For closing night at the Newport Beach Film Festival, right after winning a Best Actor prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, The Fixer was screened. The film is a fish out of water mystery tale set in a small town, with a colorful cast of characters. Some interesting thematic angles are at play and while the film may not be quite as impactful as it could have been, there is enough strength from the actors and in other various elements that make it a story with plenty of intrigue.
The film stars Dominic Rains as Osman, an Afghan who has recently re-located to America, after serving time as a fixer. A fixer is essentially a guide for reporters who know the area and can help get them access to places that would be difficult to achieve on their own, especially during a time of war. Osman was a fixer and friend for journalist Gabe (James Oliver Wheatley), who is now in Afghanistan, while Osman is temporarily living with Gabe’s mother (Melissa Leo) in California.
What’s nice about the film is how it provides the information when necessary, rather than spill out random bits of exposition at awkward times. The story is fairly loose in the beginning only to take shape as the character Lindsay (James Franco) begins to become more of a presence. Lindsay basically becomes Osman’s fixer for a short amount of time. Osman wants to be a journalist and while things don’t initially pan out how he had thought they would, the film becomes the story of an Afghan man reporting on America.
There are some bigger details about the nature of the small town he is in and some local corruption, but the film is at its best when it leaves Osman in the wind learning about all aspects of his location. Rains makes for a fine lead character, as we watch the film unfold through his eyes and can view him as something of a post-noir hero. His intentions are in no way evil or for personal gain, but you can take the aspect of him being an ‘other’ and using that as a way to intrigue some and be seen as an outsider by others.
Director Ian Olds has previously directed a few documentaries based around his experiences in the Middle East. He has found a very interesting idea in reversing the story and forming a tale that incorporates his own roots with the nature of investigative journalism and where it can lead, if one is not too careful. Olds is able to make this film ring true even more thanks to a talented supporting cast, with Franco and Leo easily standing out. Both bring out the qualities necessary to support and help to create a tone found throughout the film. Characters are likable, vulnerable and possibly a little dangerous.
The film also looks great. Shooting in various forest locations near the Northern Californian coast, you get a great sense of atmosphere that really builds up the isolation as well as the community that Osman learns of and must deal with. It also allows for some unique set pieces in a film that sort of skirts along a basic story that only takes true hold when it needs to. It is a neat approach, but having a central mystery allows the film to open up elsewhere and still have an effective payoff.
My only gripe is how we are supposed to respond to a certain thematic element of the film. While The Fixer closes well enough from a visual standpoint, I am not so certain the emotion that is supposed to be felt really resonates. Without delving to deep, it has to do with what we appreciate about Osman’s situation, being an Afghan man with particular roots and how they match up against his current surroundings. Perhaps with a bit more time spent balancing certain aspects, I could have been more swayed by where things leave off.
Issues aside, The Fixer is a generally strong feature that plays well thanks to some solid performances and a good handle on blending mystery with a wandering narrative. Taking place within a small society gave the film a more personal touch and the basic concept was a good one. Even with some questions in regards to the ending, this feature was a more than satisfying closer to the festival.