Starring Derek Bogart, Nicole Fairbairn. Written and directed by Kazik Radwanski. STC. 78 min. Opens Feb. 22 at the Royal.
Whether he’s standing glumly in a TTC subway car or grinding up against a stranger on a dance floor, the lead character of Tower is the kind of guy who many of us might strenuously avoid should we spot him in our own corner of the city. A 34-year-old who still lives at home with his parents, Derek (Derek Bogart) dreams of becoming an animator but is stuck toiling in a construction job and fumbling through strained social encounters. As if he didn’t have enough trouble, a drunken misadventure in one of the film’s earliest scenes leaves him with a nasty facial laceration.
Generating a degree of empathy for such a sadsack is a considerable challenge for Kazik Radwanski as the Toronto writer-director looks to expand and refine the style of his much-honoured short films, including Princess Margaret Blvd. and Out in That Deep Blue Sea. Yet thanks to Tower’s psychological astuteness and its lean, rigorous camerawork and editing style, Radwanski builds something major out of Derek’s decidedly minor existence.
Bogart’s nuanced performance is another major virtue, especially once the character begins an inevitably awkward romance with Nicole (Nicole Fairbairn), a woman clearly contending with her own feelings of loneliness. Indeed, Tower’s poignancy may have less to do with its perceptiveness as a character study than its wider take on the fears, doubts, and pains that cause people to seal themselves off from the world. Radwanski’s dogged determination to stick us deep into Derek’s personal space amplifies both the discomfort we may feel in his company and our desire to see him break out of that shell.
All this makes for a confident statement of purpose by one of Toronto’s most gifted young filmmakers, even if viewers may not be eager to hang out with Derek for a second longer than they have to.