By Laurie Coker
Well-crafted, slow-burn character-driven dramas can entertain more effectively than those riddled with nonstop action. Still, under the hand of an ineffective director, slow-burn can turn to listless and dull. ‘The Gateway,’ starring Shae Whigham and Oliva Munn, smolders so sluggishly and somberly that the story gets lost in the shadows of poorly realized characters and subpar storytelling. Director Michelle Civetta does little to pull together a mess of storylines effectively or engagingly.
Whigham stars as Parker, a child protective services caseworker who drinks too much and wallows in what appears to be self-loathing. He is long in compassion but short in patience and manages to get himself fired for beating up a co-worker. His termination does not keep Parker from trying to protect his client Dahlia (Munn) and her daughter from Dahlia’s husband, Mike (Zach Avery). He, hours after being released from prison, gets back into the thick of illegal activities.
Civetta relies heavily on Whigham to carry his story, and Parker is far from interesting. In fact, Parker is as, if not more, broken than the situations he attempts to fix. Whigham’s Parker provides the film’s focal point, but he has few redeeming qualities. The script, by Civetta, Alex Felix Bendaña, and Andrew Levitas, connects far too many elements to flesh out any single one fully. Making matters worse, none of the characters warrant care, except perhaps for Dahlia’s daughter Ashley (Taegen Burns), and even she is one-dimensionally drawn. This is not to say the cast does not make the best of what they are dealt with, but we simply do not care because of lame dialogue and limited development.
Set in St. Louis, ‘The Gateway’ slogs along at a lumbering pace, dragging on to a predictable and completely implausible finale. It is violent and ultimately quite depressing from start to finish. It is meant to be a gritty urban drama, and it never reaches its potential. I steamed at home and had to fight the desire to hit the stop button on the remote. I hung in there, much to my disappointment, hoping for satisfaction that never came. I am placing a D+ in my grade book. There are far better films in this genre.