At its core, “Blue Collar Boys,” written and directed by Mark Nistico, is a fairly effective character study, set against the backdrop of how the failing national economy, the housing crisis, and the corruption inherent in financial dealings hit home at a local level. It only takes a small nudge to fall off a financial cliff, and the people hit the hardest are the ones who were barely treading water in the first place. And then, what choices are they left with?
As a lesson in micro-budget filmmaking, Nistico could probably be labeled an over-achiever. Based on true events,“Blue Collar Boys,” his first feature, is ambitious, and while all of the plot threads don’t necessarily make for a truly cohesive narrative, the movie is well cast, the New Jersey setting offers credibility, and the melancholy cinematography is mostly on target.
The film rests largely on the shoulders of Gabe Fazio as Red, an earnest working class guy who toils away at a construction company owned by his father, Senior (Bruce Kirkpatrick, “The Wire,” “Royal Pains”). Senior’s business is tottering on the edge; his vendors are behind in payments, he can barely afford to pay the bills himself, and the physical wear and tear of a life performing physical labor is catching up with him. Red’s best friend, Nazo (Kevin Interdonato, “The Sopranos,” “Law and Order”) is everything Red is not. He’s abrasive, loud mouthed, and hyper violent with a hair trigger. He is the friend that most outsiders to a group cannot understand. As someone who is basically a member of Red’s family, he pushes Red into places he would rather not be, and gets him into situations that don’t always have the best outcomes. Red is the one who tries to get Nazo to grow up; Red knows that there is more to life than brawling and getting drunk with his friends.
Red’s circle of friends (who are also sometime employees of Senior’s) consists of Mason (Joshua Paled), imposing and mostly well-meaning; Slim (Russ Russo), full of manic energy and bad ideas; and Irish (Shane Kearns), an Iraq War vet who is quiet and brooding. When Senior’s business finally collapses amid bad dealings, bad choices, and a developer (Ed Setrakian) who squeezes Senior for every last dollar owed, it’s also too much for him. Red finds Senior unresponsive and sprawled out on the floor of an unfinished house. As Red’s family and friends gather at the hospital, we find out that Red found him too late—Senior is dead.
Faced with a mountain of debt, Red turns to his friends, and in between building houses, they start to run a criminal enterprise involving drug dealers and considerable violence. This is largely spurred on by their dealings with the developer who Senior had been working for; unbeknownst to Red and his crew, he has a city councilman in his back pocket, and they are figuring out ways to re-zone land Senior had bought years earlier (in hopes of making a profit off of his own housing development) to line their pockets. When pushed to the wall, these Jersey guys, who are always one step away from jail for the most part anyway, decide that they can chisel away at the American dream from outside of the lines.
As Red, Fazio delivers a solid performance. Red wants to please his father, even in death, and help out his family as best as he can. He wants badly not to be dragged down by the circumstances he has been handed, but it’s a tall order. This is where Nistico’s script shines the most. The main characters are all recognizable. We all know a Red, who is just a step behind the action but always tries his damndest. We all know a Nazo—great when you’re in a bar fight, but you wouldn’t want to ask him to head up a business venture.
While the characters are well developed for the most part, some of the plot points are shoehorned into the story. Nistico spends plenty of time building the story from the standpoint of Red and his family, but when the boys turn to a life of crime, it could have used more fleshing out than the musical montage we’re given. There are also some drug dealers that Slim is involved with; they seem to float in and out as the story demands, without any explanation. And while the point of the greedy developer and the slick city councilman is well taken, the payoff lacks emotional depth because we’ve only spent a little time on that side of the fence.
“Blue Collar Boys” is a brisk 93 minutes; that works to its benefit and its detriment. There is a nice buildup with Red and Nazo and Senior’s struggles with his business, but some scenes, such as the obligatory family meeting which turns into a fight that seemingly has nothing to do with the action at hand, are slotted in because it is expected. The female characters, such as Red’s mother Patty (Sonja Stuart) are given short shrift and are mostly archetypes to be dealt with as they pop up to present obstacles to the men in their lives.
Taken as a whole, “Blue Collar Boys” will keep your attention the entire time. Fazio and Interdonato are believable as lifelong friends, and without that, you wouldn’t want to go along for the ride. The struggles of the family facing financial ruin hit home; it’s told in a low key way that escalates into a satisfying narrative. Nistico has turned in a thoughtful treatise on loyalty versus money, greed versus doing the right thing. And for a micro-budget indie, that’s quite an accomplishment.
DIRECTOR: Mark Nistico SCREENWRITER: Mark Nistico CAST: Gabe Fazio, Kevin Interdonato, Ed Kirkpatrick, Ed Setrakian RUN TIME: 93 minutes MPAA RATING: NR