One Way or Another

By Rich Phelps | Drama
2 friends at a roadside bar head towards a violent showdown.

Three men find themselves at a tiny roadside bar off a desolate highway one night. Two of them are locals — volatile Rook, known in town for his violent temper, and his friend Marvin. The other is a stranger, Duane, a nice, slightly naive “software guy” on a road bike looking for adventure.

Rook takes a dislike to Duane, whose almost nerdy amiability and request for gluten-free alcohol rubs Rook the wrong way. Drunk and angry, Rook wants to rob and beat Duane up. But when Marvin refuses to go along with Rook’s scheme, long-simmer tensions come to surface — leading to more trouble than anyone ever anticipated.

Based on true events, writer-director Rich Phelps’s short drama compels with a carefully constructed roadside “noir” atmosphere, with its hard-boiled dialogue, shadowy cinematography and taut performances coming together to tell a tale about egos and alcohol clashing over the long-building resentments of a friendship.

The first part of the short is essentially a pressure-cooker of a long scene, focused on charting the dynamic of tension and dominance between three men in the scene. The confines of the small bar keep the camera close on the trio of characters, capturing how Rook’s powder-keg of a temperament subtly controls and cows the other men, who try to avoid or ignore Rook’s provocations.

Performances are key here, and actor Ray Hopper offers a performance of genuine menace as Rook, who seems to dominate the screen and action with strong physical presence and a coiled sense of potential upheaval. Actor Nick Palmieri plays off him beautifully as Marvin, a world-weary guy just trying to get through life as best as he can, helped along by a few drinks every night.

When Rook decides to go along with his plan anyway, Marvin follows, drunk and full of resentment. But then nothing goes as expected, leading into the film’s noirish second half, which then leans on adroit thriller-like direction to ratchet up the sense of peril and heighten the stakes.

The conclusion of “One Way or Another” is unexpected (and reveals a dry sense of humor), but it doesn’t lessen the film’s overall intensity, or its sharp-eyed, knowing study of masculinity, ego and loyalty, particularly as they work in male friendships.

All these form a strange, tangled knot between Rook and Marvin, two unhappy, lonely men who both seem to need and resent one another at the same time. What’s most effective is how the storytelling continually keeps the tension of unpredictability alive to the very end.

The resolution between Rook and Marvin is both funny and uneasy, built on a fragile, unstable foundation, one that threatens to erupt again. But for now, a cigarette and a few laughs are enough to cement it together.




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