This Oscar nominated short touches on two commonly discussed topics. From a filmmaking perspective, this takes the time-loop route. Happy Death Day and sequel, Palm Springs, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things and now Two Distant Strangers are some of the more recent examples of time related anomaly storytelling. And from a (not so) current affairs, very real issue, the narrative approach of discussing race aggravated, police brutality.
Carter (Joey Bada$$) awakes in a girls loft apartment and soon leaves to go back to his home to care for his dog. Barely even exiting the apartment building, he is approached by Merk (Andrew Howard). A cop with a clear cut hatred for a young man he’s never met. After a little exchange and despite Carter’s clear calmness, he is forced to face the pavement and we hear him scream the words ‘I can’t breathe’ as Merk continues to apply force to his neck. But then he awakes, just the same as before, only it wasn’t a dream. Exiting the apartment again, he is met by the same man and as fate would have it, is left dealing with a similar scenario. After the second time, Carter realises he’s stuck in this endless cycle and will be forced to come face to face with Merk until he can break the curse.
Within the surge of time-loop scenarios we’ve been given over the last few years, none seem to feel as unique as Two Distant Strangers. Or for that matter, none feel as real or poignant either. Directors Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe have crafted something that is genuine and sincere, but also often feels about as subtle as a car siren.
Its political message is clear. Names of black victims to fall to police brutality scroll across the screen before the end credits, and some names even pop up during the events in the movie. For some of us out there, this is going to feel all too real and will invoke some level of personal understanding.
The thirty minute runtime is a detriment to the ideas that this movie has. When it starts to develop into something that has more to say than just its political agenda, it wraps it up in a fashion that much like the scenario our protagonist lives out, has no real end.
Joey Bada$$ is somebody I’m not at all familiar with. His casting concerned me at first but he very quickly asserted himself in the lead role. Sure, this isn’t a significantly challenging script and there isn’t a great deal behind his character, but what he brings to the screen more than serves the purpose of what is needed.
Andrew Howard (Tenet, Limitless) plays the role of Merk. Howard’s no novice when it comes to playing the villain and in this scenario, he most certainly is that. His hatred for Carter is no more than racially charged ignorance and a surge of power that comes with the territory of having a badge. The issue with Merk in context of the movie, is that it doesn’t explore why he is the way he is or feels the way he does. He is a cop that like many, abuse the power that is awarded to them. But his character is the other key to really making this story work and it feels that they missed the mark with the lack of depth to his character.
Although the same could certainly be said for Carter, his character is given more room to work within the script and his progression is the fundamental basis of its short runtime.
Two Distant Strangers puts an interesting twist on the now saturated time-loop scenario. It works with what it has rather well, but its runtime fails to really allow it to flourish into something bigger than its message. Feels more of an anti-police ad, and a demonstration of our pressing and very flawed times, than an actual movie representation piece. Thematically strong, but leaves more to desired from a storytelling perspective.