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Genre Crime

Determinism (determinismthemovie.com) is the second feature-length film of identical twin brothers, Sanjit and Ranju Majumdar. The brothers were born in Queens, after their parents immigrated from South Asia, and they started making films in high school at the age of 16. After their first film, An Optimistic Perspective, premiered at the Lake Placid Film Festival in 2004, it wasn't long before they started work on their second, Determinism. The gritty, film noir-inspired, guerilla style crime story was scripted, shot and edited between studies at Penn State University over three years... a labour of love etched in sweat and blood.

The film was written and directed by the brothers Majumdar, with Sanjit in the lead role and Ranju Majumdar as cinematographer. They've created an astonishing piece of crime fiction given the limitations of a shoestring budget, squeezing everything out of their locations, lighting, cast and film technology. The story follows Alec (Majumdar), an Indian student at the fictitious Burroughs University in Narakaville, whose sense of identity has been complicated by a lifetime of "othering" in a diverse yet uncompromising society built on stereotypes.

Determinism is semi-biographical in the sense that the experiences of discrimination and othering have been lifted from the life stories of its principal film-makers. The dark, cynical and brutal world of Narakaville offers little hope to its residents. The urban landscapes are like something from a Hopper painting, eerie, open spaces show very little humanity on the surface. Yet the underground drug network thrives between uniform student housing, in a seemingly police-free zone comparable with the Brazilian slums depicted in City of God. Just like the drug-infested slums, a sense of lawlessness exists...

Alec, constrained by family breakdown, a dilution of identity and an encroaching sense of claustrophobia decides to bolt. Determined by his identity and treated like a hostile foreigner in his own country, Alec makes a last-ditch grab at a new life on the back of a quick money scheme involving drugs. The botched robbery leaves Alec and his best friend and "look out", Tristan (Lewis) in a state of paranoia as Alec tries to stay a step ahead of his enemies and Tristan's drug-infused history catches up with him. As the university community grows smaller, it becomes more and more difficult for the "petty" criminals to keep their heads above water.

Determinism is a compelling story, backed by genuine experiences in a harsh environment. It masks a revenge thriller in composition, yet carries a raw emotional intelligence, reminiscent of Atom Egoyan's Adoration. The racial dynamic is fresh, taking the fish-out-of-water American experience to an extreme in a world of crime, drugs and gangsterism. Positioning an Indian actor in the lead role was necessary to bring home some of the injustice and overriding prejudice. This is a refreshing take on the typical gangster crime thriller and Majumdar portrays Alec with great presence amid a host of able actors, who bring a strong sense of authenticity to this work of fiction.

The themes and state of paranoia may have been strongly influenced by other gangster films, but this could easily be attributed to the Grand Theft Auto generation of today, wanting to look and talk like their tough guy heroes. Determinism has a similar reality feel to Kids, showing a demographic subsection of society, who are in their own league - undeterred by adulthood, parents or law. This is shocking as audiences are exposed to student ghettos in a docudrama behind-the-scenes style of shooting with props that could very easily be the real thing.

Determinism portrays a harrowing and futile reality for "aliens" in America. This bleak outlook would have benefited from one or two likable characters, prospects of a brighter future or some intermittent levity for contrast, but the heavy atmosphere is intentionally depressing and tuned for maximum effect. The Majumdar brothers have chosen to infuse gangster genre elements with a drama about racial prejudice. The title, treatment and cinematography all point to a higher truth - beyond the simple drug-and-gun masquerade of films like Next Day Air.

However, Determinism doesn't focus enough attention on the racial undercurrents and leans too heavily on the cliches of hard living with macho gangster talk and gun play. The film is poignant, but doesn't completely immerse itself in the philosophy of its message. Instead of delivering a punch like The House of Sand and Fog, it opts for a grittier reality take on your average gangland flick. While refreshingly different and inspiring for guerilla film-makers, there's only so far you can go with a strong "student" film. The classical music adds something new, the foley effects and stunt work on the action detracts... it's a case of great potential limited by a low budget.

It would be fantastic to see the Majumdar brothers given the chance to remake Determinism with more freedom and options at their disposal. The experience they've gleaned over the last few years would hold them in good stead to bring a more introspective take on Determinism to cinemas. This independent film has been shot with French flair and shows a big step in the right direction for these young film-makers, who have the vision and passion to become great.

The bottom line: Gritty.

7.25/10 ( 4 Votes )
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