I’ve always had a soft spot for small films and shows. Things like the original Twilight Zone, where you are only introduced to a few people but get a chance to dive fairly deep into each of them. Slow burning, methodical, heavy on the narrative and heavier on the interwoven lives of its few characters, Collusions is a refreshingly small, intimate film, willing to take its time to dig into the lives and the secrets of everyone involved while slowly peeling back more and more layers of what happened regarding the central mystery.
Collusions follows five people, all connected to one another through their work in the Los Angeles legal and law enforcement systems. When former detective Sean (Jamison Jones) disappears after a fight that leaves his girlfriend, deputy DA Lindsey (Kelli Joan Bennett), with a missing tooth and a heavily bruised face, his former partner Martin (Tom Everett Scott) is called in to investigate, with FBI Agent Robinson (Steven Culp) and nurse Regina (Tembi Locke) getting pulled into the investigation later as well. I won’t get much further into the plot—the way in which the truth behind these events is slowly unraveled is the best part of the film, and I would hate to spoil anything—but it all seems to lead back to the unseen Victor Gasparian, a powerful figure in the Los Angeles underworld who Lindsey is prosecuting an important case against.
Collusions isn’t going to win many points for originality. Corruption, murder, and “bad things happen to bad people” are all fairly well-traveled ground for neo-noir by now. But its insistence on keeping things small and focused on exploring what drives its characters forward makes it a breath of fresh air when so much of modern film insists on going big and loud at the expense of substance.
Almost all the trademarks of neo-noir are present here: unreliable narrators, people trying to escape their pasts, the pervading sense that no one is to be trusted. Everyone twists and turns as the narrative moves forward, revealing the truth behind each of their individual motives; most of them are trying to escape the undercurrent of corruption that runs through all of their lives, and no one is as innocent as they’d like you to believe.
I don’t know if it’s intentional, or simply a particular craving on my behalf, but Collusions feels like a film with David Lynch’s fingerprints all over it. It does wrap up in a much neater fashion than any of Lynch’s films, and I don’t know if I would go so far as to say the film goes by his usual dream logic, but beyond that the film gave me a heavy vibe of something between Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, with just a hint of Twin Peaks: the central mystery surrounding Sean’s disappearance and Lindsey’s battered face that slowly spirals out into a wider conspiracy, the constantly shifting perspectives, with every new bit of information about a given character forcing you to think about them in a new light, the ambient, often rumbling noise of the score, the fluid way in which the narrative flows from past to present, even the imagery and color palette of the Los Angeles neighborhood where the film takes place evokes the more somber final third of Mulholland Drive, after Betty/Diane has been forcefully woken up from the dream she’s tried to surround herself with to escape reality.
Speaking of flashbacks, they’re everywhere in this film. Not everyone will like how heavily they are used, but I personally think they’re one of the best parts of the film. Not only do they add more depth to the story, but how fluidly we flow between past and present gives an extra layer to the puzzle box feel of the film. Some of the time, it’s fairly obvious what time frame we’re looking at – anytime Sean shows up is a flashback, obviously – but there are other times where there’s a sense of ambiguity as to whether you’re watching past or present, forcing you to quickly look for a visual clue to know what time frame you’re currently watching. Several scenes cleverly hide the half of Lindsey’s face that gets wounded in her fight with Sean to leave you guessing if it’s present or past, and one transition between a prior conversation between Agent Robinson and Sean and a current one between Robinson and Lindsey is particularly smooth. Further in, we even start revisiting flashbacks from a different point of view, as multiple arcs start to overlap and we get closer and closer to the truth of what happened.
Not everything clicks perfectly into place. A couple of the performances feel forced at times, especially during the film’s more intense exchanges, and the ending feels somewhat out of nowhere and rushed, but overall Collusions is a thoroughly enjoyable, cerebral film that’s definitely worth a look. It’s an excellent example of the idea of “less is more”, favoring substance over spectacle and being willing to take its time drawing you into its dark, tangled world.