Saturday, June 9, 2012

DVD Review - You'll Know My Name

Joe Raffa as Nick in
"You'll Know My Name"
Joe Raffa wrote and directed this movie in South Jersey. He won the Best Actor award at the FirstGlance Film Festival in Philadelphia, a city that the movie references. Speaking of which, this movie is all about the build up to a one-on-one fight like Rocky (1976), a film that not only references but is also set in the City of Brotherly Love. Despite its trajectory and how it ends, this movie is also about brotherly love or rather male camaraderie as expressed through brute physicality and aggressiveness, as well as male identity as expressed through selfsame.

You'll Know My Name isn't a boxing film, although comparisons between Joe Raffa's character and Sylvester Stallone's are there. Comparisons could be made between Raffa's character and Ralph Macchio's in The Karate Kid (1984) but nor is this a martial arts film.

Ostensibly, this movie could be categorized alongside such recent films about young men who prove their worth through their abilities to throw a punch or two as Never Back Down (2008) and Fighting (2009), only on a much smaller scale. Dissimilar to Fighting, Raffa's character isn't entering into fisticuffs for money or wealth. It's more similar to Never Back Down where Raffa's character is entering into it for the sense of pride.

Raffa plays Nick, a high school senior who isn't known for anything except that he's Christina's boyfriend. Nick meets Christina, played by Mianna Saxton, at the house of his friend, Chris, played by Chuck Conners who looks like a shorter, younger Seth Rogen on steroids. Christina is the friend of Chris' girl, Lexi, played by Nicole Cinaglia, in a very memorable pool scene that reveals that Nick might not be Christina's only boyfriend.

Nick learns that Christina is having an affair with Mike Santo, played by Alexander Mandell. Santo made a name for himself by beating up a guy named Larry Bridges. Therefore, Nick decides to make a name for himself too by beating up Mike Santo, although a lot of people say that that's basically a suicide mission. Mandell gives a great performance as a guy who's bigger and more intimidating. Clearly, Santo has a lot of hubris and a king-of-the-hill mentality. Santo's stock gets its value on him basically being a bully.

I wouldn't label Santo a bully though. He's no more a bully than any other guy in this environment. He's merely endemic and symptomatic of a culture that vaunts violence as a solution to problems or as a way of building status and power. At one point in this movie, it's referred to as essentially being a cowboy. Filmmaker BH Smith calls You'll Know My Name, "High Noon in the Jersey suburbs," making mention of the 1952 Gary Cooper film.

Thematically and even structurally, I can see the resemblances to High Noon. Parallels could possibly be drawn between Nick and Will Kane who was played by Cooper. Even though Kane is a cowboy more literally, he would prefer not to use violence but knows he has to use it in order to stop or put down someone who knows no avenue but violence. Kane, however, acts in the protection of others, whereas Nick doesn't.

If I made connections for Nick to a 1950s film, it wouldn't be High Noon. I'd make connections to Rebel Without a Cause (1955). First off, Raffa looks like he could be the lovechild of James Dean and Stallone. Secondly, my mind immediately jumped to Dean's character of Jim Stark in the iconic red jacket when I saw Raffa's character of Nick put on a red hoodie. It may seem superficial, but there comes a point where Nick realizes just as Jim Stark realizes that this cowboy, tough-guy, alpha male personae is pointless.

You'll Know My Name doesn't nearly have as tragic an ending as Rebel Without a Cause. Yet, it does have one too many tragic uses of the f-bomb and by f-bomb I mean the gay slur. Every character is almost too homophobic. Thankfully, it's counter-balanced with scenes of touching friendship and brotherhood. It perhaps helps that Raffa cast his real-life brother to play his on-screen brother.

I don't know if Raffa had prior relationships with the other actors. If not, kudos to Mike Lemon casting! I thought all the performances were particularly well done. I especially enjoyed Davy Raphaely as Tommy Tongues who has a scene that is hilarious and David J. Bonner as Todd who has a scene that is probably the most heartfelt.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Contains Language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 15 mins.

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