‘House Of Cards’ actor Michael Kelly shines in the SXSW dramedy ‘All Square’
Michael Kelly and adorable newcomer Jesse Ray Sheps are a dynamic duo in the little league dark comedy 'All Square'
In a unique role for ‘House Of Cards’ actor Michael Kelly, the new indie dark comedy ‘All Square’ taps into a side of him we have never seen before. Typically playing darker roles in tonally serious series and films, in his newest movie ‘All Square’, Kelly plays a Billy Bob Thornton-esque bookie named John "Zibs" Zbikowski whose clients consist of parents and neighbors in the Baltimore suburb Dundalk who bet on little league baseball. A truly unique and comical premise that taps into the life of a lonely, middle aged drunk with deep rooted issues that he has never gotten past.
John is consistently making the mistake of taking bets on credit and, when he inevitably doesn’t get paid, he turns to violence and thievery. The film starts off slightly dark but remains comical and oddly charming, nonetheless. That said, Kelly does a fantastic job of playing the essential anti-hero that deep down is just looking for a human connection.
The irony of the film is that he in fact does find a human connection, with a 12-year-old boy named Brian (the adorably poignant Jesse Ray Sheps). After a drunken evening, John has a one night stand with an old classmate named Debbie (played by the in-your-face but charming Pamela Adlon).
John meets Brian the morning after his night with Debbie, and a quick and unlikely friendship is formed. Brian is actually part of the little league that John takes bets on and is thrilled to meet a man that is filling the void of a father figure, which he never had. The two form a paternal bond, even though John would claim otherwise. Kelly does a superb job of playing a man that thinks he’s a kid at heart while subconsciously looking for that same connection that Brian is.
Their unlikely friendship blossoms, however, it’s clear that John’s influence on Brian isn’t necessarily a positive one, as he somewhat involves him in his schemes of recouping money that’s owed to him.
At the very least, John is not a great role model and Debbie becomes wary of all of the time her son is spending with her alcoholic one night stand. Brian’s character matures as John’s continues to go further downhill.
The final act takes a sharp, darker turn as John’s life continues to crumble in front of our eyes. Every single endearing thing that John has done throughout the film is trumped by his angry, immature and harmful behavior towards others and himself. Finally at rock bottom, we see a man that is somewhat figuring out the error of his ways, which would have never happened without the tight bond he and Brian had formed. Finally, someone is getting through to him and it just so happens to be a 12-year-old boy.
‘All Square’ isn’t perfect, but neither is life. Kelly and Sheps are a brilliant pair, somehow emotionally meeting in the middle. One thing that the film was lacking, however, was a strong female presence. With a powerhouse like Adlon having what should have been a pivotal role in the film, it seemed as though her part was skimmed over and not as important as it should have been. That said, this is a film about a father-son like bond that develops in ways that neither character expected and changes both forever.
Director John Hyams had a good pulse on the story and really tapped into the maturity and immaturity of both characters. With dark-yet-comedic moments, Hyams was able to take the audience on an emotional rollercoaster that didn’t necessarily tie itself up into a pretty bow, which made it that much more real.
‘All Square’ will be in theaters and on demand on October 12th. Check out the exclusive clip below!