It’s not just the title that’s tricky about writer/director Holden Pollak’s film; R is a low-budget film that’s surprising fare from a 20 year old director, not least because it’s set way back in the 1960’s. This is a film about film-making, specifically about the making of the 1968 thriller The Split, one that few today have heard of and is currently rocking a miserly three reviews on RT. That neglect might also be seen as surprising, given that The Split has a special place in cinema history as the first film to be rated R in terms of censorship rulings, but Pollak delves deep to dig out a narrative that expands imaginatively upon the smattering of online information about this particular film.
So back to 1965 we go, where Glasgow-born director Gordon Flemyng (Brad Pollak, Holden’s dad) sits reading through the script for The Split, provided by his friend Robert Sabaroff (Mark Baker). Flemyng has just made two Dr Who movies, and wants to be taken seriously to break out of B-movie hackwork, and The Split seems to offer just such a chance. American football star and Dirty Dozen star Jim Brown (J’amore Ward) is keen to be involved, but things get difficult when MGM executives, including Irvin Winkler (Eric Roberts) decide to meddle in the film. And to complicate matters, Flemyng wants a different ending from his writer…
For cineastes, or even Dr Who completists, R is a movie that pushes a few buttons; it’s initially disconcerting that Flemyng doesn’t speak with a Glasgow, Scottish or even British accent, but that ethnicity is not something that’s important in Pollak’s sense of the story, and its probably for the best to have the actor perform in his natural voice rather than a forced accent. As an older hand, Eric Roberts absolutely steals the show by bringing his A game to the role of Winkler, but there’s also some effective dialogue and scenes which reflect the constant friction between creative and executives. Talent like Quentin Tarantino often bend real-life Hollywood lore to tell their own choice of narrative, so why shouldn’t a self-starter like Pollak?
R suffers from the traditional problems of a low-budget feature, with servicable performances and minimal period detail to sell the story aside from some vintage cars; don’t expect Once Upon A Time in Hollywood or Babylon-level trappings. And Pollak doesn’t consider enough about the historical importance or context of the R rating, choosing instead to focus on creative differences. But R is worth a look if the synopsis above interests the potential viewer; not every Hollywood tale has to be epic in scope, and there’s a few barnacles on this story that may well intrigue those who have a penchant for the kind of genuine dramas that go on behind the scenes of film-making.