Dito Montiel, chose Channing Tatum as the star for his drama about corrupt police and childhood secrets, The Son of No One, correctly. He needed a guy that was wooden and could believably convey sullenness with no effort whatsoever. There is not, however, much else that is right about this feature, unless noting that in 2002 (the year the movie takes place) the Queensboro Projects are just as bad, if not worse, than they were in 1986.
Jonathan White (Tatum) thought he had outpaced his past. Now a rookie cop, he has the house on the Island, a pretty little wife (Katie Holmes) and an adorable baby girl. But he did some bad stuff as a kid while living in those housing projects. It was so bad, in fact, that then Detective and now Commissioner Stanford (Al Pacino), had to clean the mess up because Milk, as Jonathan was affectionately known as a kid, was the son of Stanford’s partner and, you know, partners are family to the end. But walls can and will talk in a tight knit community and 16 years later these walls start dropping anonymous letters to a lone reporter (Juliette Binoche) who is an activist against police dirt especially that made and swept under a rug by Captain Mathers (Ray Liotta).
There’s more than a few story arcs to follow, but focusing on the stars of The Son of No One, you’ll see a seasoned but less than stellar cast. Tatum and Holmes have never been known for the acting chops so having low expectations is par for course. Both, interestingly enough, do better than one would figure they would — Holmes, thinking her husband is cheating on her, ranges nicely from despair to rage to complacency and Tatum manages to force a few tearful scenes between his typical “I’m a tough guy” stances. The good ‘ole days for Liotta and Pacino have sadly passed (Goodfellas and The Godfather, respectively) and if they were looking for footing here, they don’t get it. Liotta once again tackles that loud asshole role he’s been playing for years and Pacino reenacts his quiet, but I’ve got a lot of power so don’t fuck with me persona once more. Juliette Binoche, unfortunately, is given a throwaway part so she throws it away.
Oh yeah, there’s also Tracy Morgan who plays Vincent, a retarded guy that was friends with Jonathan back in the day, knew the closely guarded secrets and plays a part in the “who wants to see justice exacted” mystery, that, quite frankly, isn’t much of a mystery.
Besides having so-so performances, the movie itself moves at glacial speed and suffers from some very choppy editing. Montiel employs flashbacks to drive his plot points, which unto itself isn’t a bad technique, but some are superfluous and all break the tension of the moment. Luckily, child actors Brian Gilbert as Vincent and Jake Cherry as Jonathan hold their own so as to not make these many diversions a maddening experience. It’s also got such a ridiculous ending it defies words.
I can’t help but get the feeling there is a personal agenda neatly wrapped up within the movie, however. There are many mentions of 9/11 to go along with the obvious disdain for the police, although I couldn’t make a definitive connection as to why it is used as a heavy handed backdrop. Maybe Montiel, who also wrote The Son of No One, was razzed by cops once too often during the aftermath or perhaps he just doesn’t like the post 9/11 New York as constructed by Rudy Giuliani. Or maybe I’m just seeing things.
That aside, the movie is well shot. As with A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and Fighting, Montiel captures the nitty-gritty of his home town, visually pulling no punches. Too bad, then, that he misses the mark most everywhere else.