Film noir is not only alive and living, but thriving with a unique religiously toned sci-fi bent, thanks to writer/director Christopher Di Nunzio and his latest short film, “Under the Dark Wing”.
Directed by DiNunzio and co-written with Pedro Alvarado, “Under the Dark Wing” is short and sweet and to the point. Where DiNunzio truly excels is with his visual storytelling thanks in large part to the work of his cinematographer Nolan Lee. Lee, who has worked with DiNunzio on some six projects, including shorts, narrative features and a documentary, creates a tonal bandwidth that enthralls. Celebrating the power of dark and light, harsh spots breathing life into half-faced shadows create a metaphoric duality of dark and light, good and evil, heaven and hell. No words need be spoken with Lee’s calculated lighting and framing. A picture truly is worth a thousand words when seen through Lee’s lens.
And it’s the visual power of that multi-leveled duality that set the stage of the story as Johnny Boy, right hand to mob boss George, battles his own demons while doing George’s bidding. Despite Johnny’s drug addiction, it seems George has given him second chances at “employment.” Unfortunately, Johnny botched the latest job, allegedly due to “a girl.” Not an acceptable excuse for George, as Johnny Boy tries to explain what happened, rather than hear the excuse, director DiNunzio provides flashbacks. We watch the events unfold. We see a man hidden in the dark shadows of the street. We see Johnny Boy with gun in hand, ready to shoot. But then a young pregnant girl appears and speaks. We hear her clipped, over enunciated, Old English religiously cadenced text break the silence as she asks Johnny for help. And in the blink of an eye, as Johnny says “yes” to the young girl, a blinding flash of light appears, and we are back in George’s darkened basement office.
Not believing Johnny’s fantastic tale, George makes it clear that the girl was a witness and must be taken care of. When Johnny reels at the thought and says he can’t eliminate her, George sends one of his other men out to find her while Johnny finds himself alone, racked with guilt over George wanting to kill a girl, and turns to his addiction for relief. As Johnny spirals into the depths of hell with his inner demons, the girl is brought to George. In a face-off between good and evil, darkness and light, punishment and retribution, heaven and hell, George and the girl go head-to-head with George’s street smarts and anger battling something much stronger and more powerful in a battle in which only one can prevail.
David Graziano is perfection as George. A commanding 1930’s Italian mafioso presence, Graziano easily slips into the role with mobster magnificence. Standout is Fiore Leo who, as Johnny, brings emotional texture and conflict to a literal and figurative black and white world. In just these brief 14 minutes, Leo touches the heart, making you feel Johnny’s pain and anguish and hoping he finds peace. Sadly, Jessy Rowe misses the mark as “The Girl”. Rowe’s performance feels out of place with her facial expression, and although trying to remain expressionless but with forceful stare, fails due to the over-enunciation and diction of the dialogue. As long as she is silent, however, Rowe creates an air of mystery.
With “Under the Dark Wing”, the light shines brightly on Christopher DiNunzio as a filmmaker and storyteller.
Directed by Christopher DiNunzio
Written by Christopher DiNunzio and Pedro Alvarado
Cast: Fiore Leo, David Graziano, Jessy Rowe