2020, NR, 89 min. Directed by Brent Cote. Starring Alan Van Sprang, John Ralston, Sara Waisglass, Lina Roessler, A.C. Peterson, Aaron Poole, John Rhys-Davies, Shawn Roberts.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., June 19, 2020
Quick note to casting directors: If you're looking for a soft-spoken heavy with a weary soul and bloody hands that will never come clean, they don't come much wearier and bloodier than Alan Van Sprang as ex-con Lance in Tainted, a moody and somber crime drama that draws neatly within the genre's morality tale lines. That is, with a few intriguing twists.
Most dramas wouldn't try to make a hardened Neo-Nazi their protagonist: but then, that's not quite Lance. He spent 15 years in jail, back when he was an enforcer for the Russian mob in an unnamed Canadian city. He joined the Aryan Brotherhood out of necessity, and has put all that behind him now he's out. Unfortunately the Russian mob, in the form of mid-tier boss Gregor (Ready or Not's Ralston), needs one last favor, and then he's really out – stack of cash, clean passport, the works. All he has to do is kill another member of the Brotherhood and leave no traces.
Tainted feels like the kind of revenge thriller people used to make before John Wick. It's gritty, grim – the violence far from stylized – and shrouded in snow and shadows. Yet it's no less a Hollywood fantasy of gang life, riddled with the same broad-strokes breakdowns of gangs along ethnic lines, with the Russians in a perpetual simmering standoff with the Aryans, and vague asides about complicit indigenous tribes and meth-cooking farmers. Basically, don't look for the kind of grounded criminal realism you got in the highly underrated Shot Caller either, although writer/director Cote's script makes tragic nods to its core thesis, about how prison gangs are about survival rather than idealism.
What you do get is a bleak and brutal morality tale, one that carries the heavy message that you can never really walk away from all this violence. Van Sprang is perfect as the bruiser carrying a lifetime of regrets and debts he can never settle. It doesn't matter how many low-paying jobs he takes to pay his way, or moments of kindness he shows to his neighbor, aspiring coffee shop musician Anna (Waisglass) - he'll always be a neo-Nazi ex-con with a swastika inked on his chest, defined by the look of disgust on the face of the tattoo artist he asks for a cover-up. Gregor's no better, and it doesn't matter how many hours he spends behind the counter making pretend with his girlfriend, Adalina (Roessler), in her bakery. Then, it doesn't matter how good her cakes are when she knowingly turns a blind eye to his crimes. Everyone is tainted, the story shows, and the only lie we tell ourselves is that we can ever be clean again.
Tainted is available on VOD now.