Big budgets do not a great film make. Wednesday night, Boise filmmakers Gregory Bayne and J. Reuben Appelman demonstrated to a Treasure Valley audience that content and cleverness can trump cold hard cash with a benefit screening of their near-complete work Person of Interest. The Egyptian Theatre showing was packed with people who showed up in support of Bayne and Appelman as they close on the finish of this two-year labor of love project.
The story follows Terrance Dyer (played by writer/co-producer Appelman), a young war veteran whose paranoia about in-country conspiracies results from the trauma of his experiences in Iraq as an explosives expert. He holds late night meetings decrying the street-walking immorality and federal corruption of his hometown Seattle and wanders the streets, spying on the cloaked actions of late-night lotharios. Upon meeting Nola (Nova Tydings), an internet journalist, he decides to reveal his conviction that the government is setting him up as the fall guy for an upcoming act of terrorism, as evidenced by his conversations with a government interrogator (Stitch Marker). As the effects of Dyer’s PTSD become increasingly pronounced, he slowly begins to evolve from a concerned citizen to a dangerous vigilante who may or may not actually commit the crime for which he’s convinced he’ll be fingered.
Filmed in 2008 over a three month period—with a typical night time start at 1 a.m.—Person of Interest belies its pocket-change budget with inventive editing and strong performances. Appelman, who initially wasn’t interested in playing Dyer, is an arresting onscreen presence, his aggravated stare and tension-filled body challenging the other characters and the audience to predict his next move. While the film is essentially a one-man show, Marker and Tydings give strong support as opposing symbols of chaos and justice. Dyer is an enigma, angry and unbalanced, but with high moral principles that seem to preclude his being a terrorist. But it's this same passion for virtue and truth drives him toward insanity.
Appelman’s script, which went through several revisions to match a smaller budget, is convoluted, poetic and confusing, arcing back and forth chronologically and keeping the audience unenlightened about Dyer’s motivations. It’s an effective screenplay, as we’re left just as anticipatory as Dyer himself. Will he destroy a building? Can Nola help him recover from his experiences? Will her story reveal to America an in-progress government conspiracy? We don’t learn the answers to these questions, and we’re not meant to.
In some ways, Person of Interest isn’t about a particular man or a certain story. It’s an indictment of the federal government’s poor support of war veterans and sometimes backwards foreign policies. But it’s a strange, incisive psychological thriller as well. Although shot on a shoestring budget, Person of Interest looks good. The heat-blown, out-of-focus effects mirror the hazy environment of the Iraq conflict as well as the confusion of Dyer’s remembrances of his time there. Strong performances, a challenging script and assured direction allow this indie project to rise above its monetary limitations and tell a powerful, provocative story.