‘Auggie Rose’ Tells Involving Tale of Simpler Life
Matthew Tabak’s “Auggie Rose,” in which Jeff Goldblum and Anne Heche arguably give their best performances to date, has the earmarks of a sleeper: an unusual and involving premise persuasively and fully realized. Painstakingly and resourcefully made on location in Los Angeles, this modestly budgeted independent production deserves a chance to find a wider audience.
Goldblum’s well-tailored John Nolan enters his neighborhood deli-liquor store to pick up a specially requested bottle of cabernet sauvignon. When a new sales clerk brings out a bottle with a scratched label, the meticulous Nolan asks for an exchange. Just as the clerk emerges from the back room with a new bottle in hand, a young, edgy guy who’s just held up the store shoots the clerk in the stomach. With his dying breath, the clerk (Kim Coates) tells Nolan his name is Auggie Rose.
In an instant Nolan’s comfortable, secure life is turned upside down. Plunged into guilt over feeling responsible for Rose’s death, especially over a trivial matter, Nolan feels compelled to find out all he can about Rose and imbue his death with as much dignity and meaning as possible. The police handling the case, busy with other matters, are none too cooperative, but in time the smart, dedicated Decker (Richard T. Jones) comes to respect Nolan’s quest.
It seems that Rose had begun the job only a day before, having just been released from prison as a second-time loser after serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery. Rose apparently had no immediate family and few possessions in his drab one-room apartment in an old building in Hollywood in the vicinity of Santa Monica and Western. Meanwhile, Nolan’s live-in lover of six years, Carol (Nancy Travis), in their elegant home (of the kind found in or around Hancock Park) and Nolan’s devoted secretary Noreen (Paige Moss) are increasingly alarmed at Nolan’s persistent obsession with Rose; Carol eventually urges that he seek professional help.
Even though Rose’s death has left Nolan feeling disenchanted with his existence as a glibly successful life insurance salesman, he might well have ultimately gotten back in his lucrative groove had he not discovered a cache of letters under Rose’s mattress that the police overlooked, perhaps because of an indifference borne of a certainty that Rose would inevitably and swiftly have become a three-time loser.
The letters are from a female pen pal, Lucy, who is due to arrive from her small town on a Greyhound bus. A reluctant Decker agrees to permit Nolan to meet Lucy (Heche) and tell her the news of Rose’s murder. For whatever reason Auggie and Lucy have never exchanged photos; perhaps each was afraid of mutual disappointment. In any event, Nolan is not prepared for how young and attractive--and how spontaneously affectionate--Lucy is.
In his feature directorial debut after writing for TV and cable, Tabak attempts a powerful connection with anyone who ever had a desire, no matter how fleeting, to drop out of his current life or simply longed for the time to enjoy life’s ordinary pleasures or pursue a less complicated, less materialistic existence. The pursuit of success and the securing of even a modest measure of it, as many people can attest, can consume time and energy faster than water evaporating on a desert highway during a heat wave. Tabak can plug into a viewer’s fantasy of a simpler life while not losing touch with the realities of daily existence, regardless of socioeconomic level.
The way “Auggie Rose” plays out is consistently imaginative and persuasive in its plotting and writing. Tabak makes substantial demands on his wonderful cast but rewards them with roles of exceptional depth and dimension. Goldblum expresses the full range of Nolan’s guilt, anguish and growing inner conflicts.
Once again Heche reveals her assured versatility in showing us Lucy as an ordinary woman with modest dreams but who can more than match her warmth and openness with a tough-minded detachment and self-sufficiency. Above all, she is able to make believable the reasons why Lucy would be drawn to becoming a prisoner’s pen pal in the first place.
Travis is most effective as an attractive woman capable of dealing forthrightly with the possibility that the love between between her Carol and Nolan may not go very deep after all. Joe Santos is Auggie’s colorful ex-boxer neighbor, and Timothy Olyphant a nervy young crook eager to ensnare Auggie in a heist he has planned.
“Auggie Rose” recalls a neglected gem, “The Judge Steps Out,” starring Alexander Knox and the late Ann Sothern, and it’s too bad that Tabak’s film, like the 1949 picture, wasn’t also shot in black-and-white. Had Adam Kimmel’s fine camera work been in black-and-white, it would have given “Auggie Rose” a film-noir quality most appropriate for its story and milieu.
* MPAA rating: R, for language and some violence. Times guidelines: language, adult themes and situations.
Jeff Goldblum: John Nolan
Anne Heche: Lucy
Timothy Olyphant: Mason
Richard T. Jones: Decker
Nancy Travis: Carol
A Roxie release of a Franchise Pictures presentation in association with a Persistent Pictures production. Writer-director Matthew Tabak. Producers Andrew Stevens, Matthew Rhodes, Dan Stone. Executive producer Elie Samaha. Cinematographer Adam Kimmel. Editor Brian Berdan. Music Don Harper & Mark Mancina. Costumes Wendy Chuck. Production designer Caroline Hanania. Art director Christopher Tandon. Set decorator Lisa Fischer. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
Exclusively at the Aero Theater, 14th Street and Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, (310) 395-4990.