“Before I Disappear” would be a better movie if would-be triple-threat talent Shawn Christensen got out of his own way.
Based on writer-director-actor Christensen’s Oscar-winning live-action short “Curfew,” “Before I Disappear” has loads of highlights to recommend it, but also a fatal flaw. The film’s strength is largely in what Christensen has to offer behind the camera. What he brings in front of it as a leading man/antihero is entirely unbelievable.
Christensen stars as suicidal lowlife Richie, whose wrist-cutting ritual in a bathtub one night becomes a farcical case of a death wish interrupted. Richie — blood flowing from his veins — is called upon by an estranged sister (Emmy Rossum) to take care of a niece, Sophia (Fatima Ptacek), whom he barely knows.
What follows is a night of chickens coming home to roost. While Sophia, who inspires a spark of crude nobility (and a renewed desire to live) in her uncle, looks on, Richie takes responsibility for his various dodges and deceits in the criminal world he inhabits.
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Christensen proves to be a superior director of actors. Young Ptacek is a joy; Rossum slowly and movingly reveals the heart of her character; Ron Perlman is coiled danger; and Paul Wesley brings shading and nuance to a stock role as a petty tyrant.
Christensen is also adept and nimble with his camera and imaginative framing. But the hole in the film is his performance, which is barely serviceable and certainly derivative of every young actor who has ever played a pariah-with-a-conscience.
Here’s hoping that next time around he casts the type of great actor his material deserves.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org