Please note that this review contains information about plot and performance. If you want no details about either, CONSIDER THIS REVIEW SPOILERY AND DON’T READ IT. I have not revealed anything that I believe will diminish your enjoyment of Little Favour, but if you prefer having no knowledge of a film before you see it—please wait to read this review until you’ve seen the film.
At 26 and a half minutes, nearly 3 and a half of them credits, Little Favour may be a short, but it’s big on packing action—and symbolism—into a few scenes. A first viewing reveals the violent, shocking plot details, but a second look shows the careful way that plot has been developed, shot by shot, line by line. That “second look” makes the film far more intriguing and proves that writer/director Patrick Victor Monroe not only has a suspenseful story to tell, but, more important, knows how to frame it with specific shots that, on second viewing, unveil a deeper meaning to dialogue or a lingering close-up. This layering makes Little Favour far more than another example of Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting skill or testament to his popularity. (The film received immediate, overwhelming support from Cumberbatch fans, who contributed £86,240 last spring so that it could be made. True to Cumberbatch’s recorded promise to funders, the money was well spent by first-time filmmaker Monroe.)
Like any good short film, Little Favour prompts its audience to ask questions and want to see more. Just what is the “favour” that Wallace, known as Ace (Cumberbatch), owes old friend James (Colin Salmon)? What is the history between them, and why, as so many old friends do, did they become estranged? When James calls in the debt, he surprises Ace with a request--to look after his little girl, Lilah (Paris Winter Monroe, a talented young actor making her film debut). Of course, the cliché is that this job is not as easy as it sounds.
Monroe gets good performances from his actors but also reveals more about these characters from the shots he chooses. Even wardrobe tells part of the story. In the opening scenes, emotionally compressed Ace walks stiffly next to the much looser limbed, more confident James. Ace’s wardrobe--a form-fitting, tightly zipped leather jacket--matches his tense demeanor; he keeps his hands stuffed into pockets as he warily walks into an unknown situation. That James and Ace are opposites is clearly delineated in a silhouetted profile shot of the pair standing in front of a brick wall, separated by the visual line of a girder. Once Ace goes into action, however, the now-famous image of Cumberbatch-as-Ace, stripped to undershirt, shows his apparently natural state as a fighter.
The camera angles ably direct the audience’s attention to important details. Monroe relies on close-ups of expressions (through which James and Ace hold an entire conversation) or frequent rack focus shifts between points of view, for example. In a few places—such as intercut images reminding the audience of Ace’s promise to James—the editing seems a bit heavy handed, but overall the film easily holds audience attention, and its style keeps the story moving briskly.
By the time the lengthy credits roll and the film’s many supporters are duly thanked, viewers are aware that there’s a much deeper story yet to tell (especially for those who have not read the Indiegogo plot synopsis that reveals more backstory). Here’s hoping that SunnyMarch, including the trio of actor/producer Cumberbatch, executive producer Adam Ackland, and writer/director Monroe (who, with Will Hensel, even composes the original music), either turns Little Favour into a full-length feature or gets busy with another transfixing tale.