Will ‘The Machine’

By Kent Lamm | Drama
A high school football star finally meets his match.

Will is a dedicated athlete in Richmond, Virginia, with professional aspirations. But there’s a difference between dedication and obsession… and Will is obsessed to the point of never smiling, never relaxing and never connecting with his fellow teammates. He trains relentlessly, earning the nickname “The Machine.”

But one day while training at a park, Will encounters a new, seemingly casual athlete named Joe, a young man who with seemingly little effort becomes his rival in terms of skill, speed and strength. Confronted with his limitations during a series of increasingly tense contests, Will reveals just how off-kilter he is.

Writer/director Kent Lamm, along with co-writer and lead actor Chris Fornataro, has crafted a sharp, incisive character portrait of a young man dominated by brutal ambition and relentless pursuit of a goal to the exclusion of nearly everything else. Though its central subject is a football player, this is not a story about sports, but about a grasping, almost desperate need that masks itself through punishing drive.

The visuals and writing take its cues from its main character, whether it’s in the kinetic action shots that maintain a constructed, shadowy frame or the taut yet fragmented editing that emphasizes the methodical, pounding rhythm of Will’s regimen.

The few interactions it captures form a portrait of Will’s isolation, including the way he pushes himself and how he pushes others away in his quest for achievement. Lead actor Fornataro isn’t afraid to be off-putting in his intense, flinty portrayal of Will, but he sets up enough shadings within the mask of hardened aggression he presents to intrigue viewers instead of alienating them.

The film opens up with the introduction of a new kid in town Joe, played by actor Denzel Whitaker with a compelling mix of affable ease and athletic confidence. In his openness and friendliness, he’s almost Will’s complete opposite in many ways, and their interaction is both fascinating and tense. When the underlying tension of their encounter rises to the surface as a direct challenge, it nearly unravels Will and offers a fleeting yet undeniably powerful glimpse of what exactly is driving this troubled young man.

The gift of “Will ‘The Machine'” is how it handles this small yet powerful moment of revelation, which recasts what we think we know of Will as viewers in a whole new — and undeniably heart-wrenching — light. It’s handled brilliantly in the acting and directing in both its brevity and its sheer naked terror, as well as in how quickly Will scrambles to hide it after his mask falls. Though it is a small but crucial moment, it has a huge emotional impact, and audiences will be weighing its implications just as this powerful, resonant short comes to an end — and likely aching with sadness and asking important questions about abuse, masculinity and silence.

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