Directed by Lou Howe
When so many movies are indifferent to their visuals, how refreshing it is to watch Gabriel, which not only knows what it wants to do with its camera but also couples it with a sophisticated sound design to convey its troubled protagonist’s fractured worldview. Even if the story at the center of the film weren’t so strong, director Howe’s excellent debut would be distinguished through craft alone.
The story retreads Holden Caulfield territory, following a depressive young man who hides out in New York, obsesses over an idealized girl, and whose broken family raises the threat of his being committed. (Both Gabe and Holden even have hand wounds from punching walls in anger.) This is familiar territory for Rory Culkin, who played a variation on this part in Igby Goes Down (at least in the flashbacks; Culkin’s brother Kieran played the role proper). That was a strong film, but Gabriel is better, stripped of affectations and committed to its brutal, uncoddled vision. Culkin is excellent as the lead, and helped greatly by Howe’s script, which doesn’t insist on plot but has a good ear for dialogue. Note the way he suggests family history through phrases like “clean machine” and “the cheese from Belize,” inside jokes the characters would know and not need to explain.
It’s easy to imagine this material being insufferable, but Howe makes it compelling through stylistic touches that mirror Gabriel’s unease. The focus racks manically, sounds and music stretch and deepen in times of calm and trill in times of unease. None of this is complex or groundbreaking, but it’s effective and clearly thought through. Howe is a real filmmaker, down to the exact moment he cuts to black. Ryan Vlastelica