Corey Pearson and Paul O’Brien are two of the key names attached to Message Man, and you’d be forgiven for not having heard of either.
Paul O’Brien plays Ryan Teller, a John Wick-like retired assassin, who has taken to living on a boat off the coast of Indonesia. O’Brien is an Australian actor who is best known for his five years in the Australian soap opera, Home and Away, since which he has played a minor part in Neighbours and starred in several TV movies and short films.
Corey Pearson is a complete unknown, a native of Illawarra, Australia. He had several former careers, before attending film school. His first film out of school is Message Man, though released in 2018, the same year as Pearson’s second film Harmony.
Pearson shot Message Man 2015 and 2016. Not only is Pearson attached as director of this film, but he is also the writer, editor, and producer. The film can be very seen as an auteur piece with an almost dictatorial control over all aspects of the movie.
Having the information that not only is this Pearson’s first film, he is doing all of the key roles, with little to no experience in any; alongside the fact that the lead is being played by a former Australian soap star with little further mainstream cinematic film work, you’d be forgiven for having low expectations. That is certainly how I approached the film.
I can honestly say, I was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t Citizen Kane, but the film is great. I am forgiving of some average acting and a few cheesy lines, alongside this the storyline is pretty average and follows a similar theme of revenge that can be seen in several films, not least the John Wick series.
Message Man focuses on Teller, who has been in hiding from Lee (Verdi Solaiman), over a previous hit on Lee’s family. Teller is forced out of hiding by a faulty engine part on his boat and goes to a small island to replace it. It is here that he makes friends with a young Indonesian boy, Doni (Aji Santosa), which in turn leads Teller to meet his family and inevitably fall in love with his mother.
Teller is ultimately discovered when he sees Doni get hit by a truck speeding along the street. After seeing the truck fail to stop, Teller throws a stone, shattering the wing mirror and the truck stops. The truck is full of three of the four pirates who have been causing trouble on the small island.
They seek to kill Teller with long blades for smashing the mirror. This is the first clear demonstration of his skills, as he quickly and efficiently gains control of the blades and then dismembers and kills the men.
O’Brien does a fantastic job creating a believable relationship between Teller and his adopted Indonesian family. There is creating a mutual love, allowing Teller to open up and create moments of joy in his isolated and lonely life. His presence also creates security and happiness that was missing from the single mother family.
Although elements of the storyline are predictable and reach towards an inevitable conclusion, there are parts of the film that come as a surprise and feel different from expectations but not jarringly so. The main part Doni plays at the end of the film was unexpected but fit well and threw back to earlier moments in the film to bring the story full circle.
Instead of going out on his own to take out the people causing anguish to Teller’s new family, he instead realizes that this is too big a job for him alone. He reaches out and hires a ‘consultant’ to assist in his vengeance. This felt oddly logical. There was a plan, and this felt right.
He was going out to get vengeance, but unlike many vengeance films, where the protagonist goes out to get vengeance and happily lays down their life for it. They go kamikaze as they have nothing left to lose. Instead, Teller has his whole new family to lose, he is getting vengeance so that no-one comes after and potentially hurts his family ever again.
In such, the fact he hired someone to help in his vengeance, represented that he was using an element of caution, that in the end, he hoped to survive and return to the family.
The martial arts in this film are flawless, and though O’Brien doesn’t necessarily look the part of an assassin with his floppy hair, looking more like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2. He plays the part brilliantly when it comes to the fight scenes. All of the stuntmen and stars that take part in the fights are brilliant and demonstrate great believability.
The film too looks beautiful. The shots are simple, there is nothing too arty or different. It is filled with a standard mix of close-ups, medium, and long shots, there are one-two shots for conversations, and it is framed exactly how you would expect. The lighting is impeccable the whole way through, the action is brilliantly shot, and nothing is missed. There are no moments that don’t fit in beautifully.
Overall this film has an unexpected brilliance. Not knowing anyone in the film, knowing that not only is this Pearson’s first film, but he is also the director, writer, producer, and editor and knowing that it relies on a former soap star that has done very little since; I expected a poor to an average action movie.
I was mistaken, this is emotional, dark, gritty, bloody and done brilliantly to get the exact response from the viewer that is required at each ad every moment. I loved this film and would happily watch it over again, more than once, which is a rarity for me.