Back in school, whenever tasked with putting on a short play in drama in front of the class, there was this inclination to always turn to the gangster flick. Perhaps it was misplaced teenage masculinity, or just a juvenile appreciation of the genre, but it would always descend into cockney accents, and big, superfluous shoot-outs at the end where nearly everyone died. In some ways Justin Edgar’s The Marker feels akin to the aforementioned high-school endeavours, and while there’s a sense of affection for the genre at hand, unfortunately, any such comparison is not exactly a compliment.

Frederick Schmidt plays Marley Dean Jacobs, an introvert who has been under the watchful, irresponsible eye of Brendan Doyle (John Hannah) ever since he can remember. After the passing of his mother, and during a job, he lashes out at young woman Ana (Ana Ularu) and kills her with one blow. It’s a crime he can’t run away from, as not only is he imprisoned for close to a decade, but he sees Ana everywhere he turns, haunted by her presence as he can’t overcome his demons and regrets. So upon his release he wants to help the victim’s daughter Cristina (Lara Peake), who had witnessed the murder of her mother. But in doing so he must reconnect with Brendan, which generally only leads to one thing; destruction.

The_MarkerThe entire film hinges on the pivotal, tragic incident that sends our protagonist to jail. It’s a scene that is deftly executed by the director, for it just happens. There’s no build up, it takes us by surprise similarly to how it hits Marley. It seems like a routine job, still in the early stages of the narrative where we anticipate a mere sequence to help set the scene, but when he lashes out and kills Ana everything changes, and the way this implicative, impactful moment happens so suddenly is representative of real life, for nobody can foresee such a thing. Edgar, and Schmidt, must also be commended for ensuring that Marley just about remains likeable, which is some task considering we first get introduced to him after he takes away the life of an innocent woman. But it’s an impressive, internalised performance, nuanced and subtle – and allows the viewer to find a semblance of empathy, in spite of the circumstances.

However, and despite the compelling opening act, The Marker loses its way spectacularly, becoming so overtly dramatic, and needlessly so. It’s as though the filmmakers are over-compensating for the lack of resources and budget, whereas had they had more faith in the characters and narrative at hand, they could have thrived in the more subtle, understated moments – where this film truly flourishes. Instead, it plays out just like one of those plays we used to put on in school, so cliched and lazy. But we were 15 years old – and we were idiots. Those behind this production have no excuse.

The Marker is released on September 29th.