‘NUMBER 37’ is a crime-thriller from South Africa directed by Nosipho Dumisa who in addition to her direction, also co-wrote this script starring Irshaad Ally, and Monique Rockman. The story follows Randal, a recent paraplegic after a drug deal gone wrong cost him his legs. Confined to his small apartment in a wheelchair, with no way to pay off the vicious loan shark he owes money to, all feels hopeless. Until he witnesses a violent crime being committed by a local kingpin through his binoculars. An opportunity that could either get him and his girlfriend out of trouble for good. Or get them both brutally killed.
This was a film that grabbed my attention from the opening scene and held on to it tightly until the end-credits rolled. It follows the main character as he continually is left to face the consequences of his own choices. While this plays out there are a collection of other moving parts wrapped around the main plot that continually add tension to the progression of the story-line. These dynamics had me interested and genuinely curious from one scene to the next. Things seem to only get worse the more this character tries to make things better. He isn’t a good person, but not necessarily a bad person either. Despite his past criminal activities, he has enough of a moral compass to connect with. This allowed me to feel intrigue in the outcome this story would have for him and his girlfriend.
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The main character is recently handicapped. He feels waves of helplessness, immense guilt for not being able to protect his girlfriend, and the dialogue captures this mental-state nicely without overdoing it or forcing too many melodramatic beats. It sets the stage very timely. The emotional weight of his physical position is certainly evident. Thus, his desperation to get he and his girlfriend out of the situation he put them in was rightfully able to take the center stage.
As I said earlier there were a handful of moving parts in this story and they all blended together nicely with concise writing. The economic state of the region, the growth of Randal’s relationship with his longtime girlfriend. The grip a local crime-boss has on the neighborhood. The ruthless loan shark and his capabilities. In addition to a good cop inside a corrupt system. All important elements to this film that were woven together in a script that continually progressed without leaving loose ends.
The performances were all more than effective for the character needs. Irshaad Ally as Randal was fantastic. He was down-to-earth. He never felt like he was putting on a performance and appeared comfortable in the position of not getting to rely on his entire body to act. He had to convey waves of intense emotion through his expressions and his eyes alone, and he pulled it off with sincerity and a gripping realism.
Monique Rockman was also excellent. She felt extremely natural portraying this character. I connected with the love and the frustration she had with Randal. I was able sympathize for her position being in way over her head. I also admired her determination and perseverance and the depth in Rockman’s performance is what delivered all of that and more. In addition to showcasing strong chemistry with Ally to fully sell their relationship as being realistic.
The direction from Nosipho Dumisa was able to pull the highest amount of impact from the story by showcasing a great eye behind the camera. Randal spends much of the film peering through the lens of the binoculars. As he watches the world outside his window Dumisa was able to maneuver the camera nicely to feel like I was looking through his eyes. This immersed me in the character and while watching it allowed me to feel the tension and unnerving anxiety with him which is a major success in a thriller.
The timing from one scene to the next, and where the camera framed a scene up hit with impact when needed to keep me on edge. There was also a blend of different techniques that kept the visual appeal fresh. Even a simple scene in a long hallway was amplified with lighting and the right choice in angles to capture the intended moody atmosphere. It was subtle, but I appreciated this attention to detail.
This film was much in the vain of Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ but without question stands on its own legs as a gripping thriller. It doesn’t try to weave a bunch of twists and turns. It keeps things grounded. It keeps the story-arc’s realistic, and the result was genuine unpredictability in where things could go. It created uneasiness, and continually built-up the suspense and anxiety into a third-act that wrapped everything up with a satisfyingly riveting result.
It was gritty. It was raw. And some excellent performances all-around capture the intention of the well-crafted writing. The direction pulls the viewer into not only the situations with these characters, but it also enables you experience what they are feeling as well, and I recommend checking this one out. It’s getting a limited release in select theaters this month, with a Video on Demand release set for November 20th.