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With: Matthew Leitch, Diana Quick, Blake Ritson, Peter Youngblood Hills, Bill Nighy
Written by: Duncan Roy
Directed by: Duncan Roy
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, nudity, language and drug use
Running Time: 118
Date: 01/19/2002

AKA (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Triple Threat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Take a little Talented Mr. Ripley and combine it with Catch Me IfYou Can, and you get the new British film AKA, which tells the truestory of Dean (Matthew Leitch), a working-class lad in Essex circa 1978.

He shares with his mum an appreciation for the finer class, poring over magazines and photos of the rich and famous. When his dad goes ballistic and throws Dean out, he slowly cajoles his way into this upper-class world, working in an art gallery for Lady Gryffoyn (Diana Quick) before posing as a lord and becoming a boy-toy for several gay players, including David (George Asprey) and the lusty American, Ben (Peter Youngblood Hills).

Character actor Bill Nighy shows up for a single pivotal scene, a ritzy dinner for Dean that could unmask his ruse. The Los Angeles Film Critics gave Nighy a Best Supporting Actor award for this role, along with his performances in three other films: Love Actually, I Capture the Castle and Lawless Heart.

Writer/director Duncan Roy distinguishes himself from his high-profile Hollywood genre-mates by splitting the screen into three tiny boxes, laid out in a row. Like Mike Figgis' Time Code, a clever sound mix lets us know which frame to concentrate on.

Presumably Roy wants us to think of the different "faces" of his protagonist. He uses his three squares to show wider or closer versions of the same shot, or different angles, or sometimes he uses one frame to jump ahead and get a head start on the next scene. However, the overall effect is a bit disorienting. Like his protagonist, Roy wants to dazzle us before revealing the ordinary.

The late 70s setting will mean something to pre-Thatcher Londoners, but it also represents the pre-AIDS era and the era in which a man could commit credit card fraud without computers catching up to him (everyone uses those old-fashioned sliding gizmos). Yet the unrest of those times, exemplified by the extraordinary punk-rock movement, is nowhere to be found in AKA.

AKA can be intermittently frustrating, partially due to the distance between the film's timeline and our own. Roy allows Dean to discover the cruel discrepancies between his two worlds without softening or explaining. And we in the audience -- with our omniscient triple view of Dean's world -- are unable to help. For example, we know that Dean's father molested him, and Roy refuses to draw any connections between that and Dean's own homosexuality.

In other words, this 118-minute film makes us work a little bit. We might think we have everything figured and laid out in front of us, like Minghella did with Ripley and Spielberg with Catch Me. But Roy has told an engaging, complex story with masks under its masks.

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