PAINLESS [Movie Review]: No Pain, No Gain.
Painless, by writer/director Jordan Horowitz‘s feature narrative debut, stars Joey Klein as Henry Long, a young man suffering from a unique, yet rare, condition in which he is unable to feel physical pain. Devoting his entire life to finding a cure to his condition, he encounters a shady scientist (Pascal Yen-Pfister, of The Defenders fame!) with a less-than-stellar past who is willing to aid him…but with little caveats as to how that aid is administered. A chance encounter with Shani (Evalena Marie), a barista, forces Henry to reconsider his obsessive quest to find a cure for his condition, while he begins to wonder just how far he’s willing to go in that pursuit.
While I enjoyed the central conceit and science behind Painless, it is hard to classify it as a “drama/thriller”; the most apt comparison (and one to which I’d continually find myself making) was to Darren Aronofsky’s debut film, Pi. Both films are character-driven pieces that focus on the obsessive works of social-awkward professionals, and both peddle in scientific (and mathematical) theories that are just outside the edge of mainstream knowledge. But whereas Pi gradually ratcheted up the paranoia with visual flourishes and a kinetic editing style, Painless takes a more straightforward, almost documentary approach to the story (which makes considerable sense, as director Horowitz enjoyed acclaim with his documentary Angel of Nanjing). The result is a more cerebral approach to the subject, eschewing visual thrills to scientific minutiae and ethical dilemmas; in a different genre, the subject and general conceit of Henry’s condition is rife with possibility, but that doesn’t mean it is any less interesting when played straight. I’m one for hard science, and science fiction, in film, and I have a scientifically-minded cousin of whom I was constantly reminded while listening to Henry explain away his thought process, so this was par for course for me.
Joey Klein is an interesting actor; I’ve never seen any of his previous works (aside from American Gangster…but it’s been years),but he’s got a distinct look and countenance that carries the film. He plays Henry as someone who seems to be wearing his exhaustion (just going on a date requires a backpack full of bandages, ointments, and thermometers to regulate his body temperature, and all this in the off-chance that he might hurt himself without knowing), and he excels at playing the aloof, socially-awkward loner. His scenes with the compelling Shani just ride this border of romantic…but not quite; there’s a distance in his eyes that never goes away, no matter how close they get to one another, and despite the eventual heartbreak she sells so convincingly.
He’s definitely got a “look”: at times reminding me of a young Christopher Walken, at others Jeremy Renner (without the swagger and glint in his eye). There’s a weight and heaviness Klein is able to carry, as well as a sadness to Henry, of someone trying to be as normal as he always imagined that word to be defined. Hopefully this is the first of many roles for Klein, as this feels it could be for him what A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints was to Channing Tatum.
Liam Le Guillou‘s cinematography was another standout; Horowitz’s eye for realism lends New York City, and its outer boroughs a sense of reality, and cold, chilly detachment, that is authentic (I should know. I’m writing this from that very city). Utilizing natural lighting, and with an astute eye for composition, there is a slight late-1990’s-indie classicism to Painless, but, again, minus any of the sort of dynamic flourishes that might otherwise distract from what is a very grounded story. 3.5/5 Bibles.
Painless is streaming on VOD where available.