Short films matter. Vimeo wants you to know it. So do we. That’s why every week we’ll take a look at some of the short film world’s best and brightest. This week, we bring you Andrew Laurich’s incisive dark comedy A Study In Tyranny.
The Plot: An unlikely assassin has a chance to alter the course of history. But can he convince his target that history needs to be altered?
The Film: It’s Monday, January 23 2017. It’s been two full days since the Inauguration. Hopefully, the world hasn’t ended. Either way, many of us (on both sides of the issue) are still asking ourselves how we got here? A Study In Tyranny has a couple of ideas on that subject.
Why Press Play?
If you recognize that title then you know probably where those ideas are coming from. If not, well, you should know that A Study In Tyranny is the subtitle to Sir Alan Bullock’s 1952 biography on Adolf Hitler.
Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler. The book itself becomes essential to the film’s plot around the 3-minute mark. That’s surprising since the film opens in turn of the century Vienna. So how does that book find it’s way to Europe circa 1908? That answer comes in the wide eyes and modern dress of the man (Stephen Ellis) at the center of that opening scene. Thankfully, the words time travel are never uttered in Andrew Laurich’s film. Nor is the topic ever broached by it’s characters. Seems A Study In Tyranny is not a film about time travel.
Rather, Laurich and co-writer Gabriel Miller use time travel as their device. The oft-uttered question of ‘if you could change history by killing one person, who would it be?’ becomes their portal. One has to believe that Adolf Hitler would top most lists. And that’s how you get an American with a gun and a copy of Hitler’s biography into young Adolf’s (Matt Devine) living room for an assassination attempt. Where Laurich and Miller take their story from there is nothing short of inspired. As with their previous collaboration (A Reasonable Request) the pair continue to find intrigue in the simple act of two characters conversing. And A Study In Tyrrany‘s conversation is a doozy.
After all, in 1908 Adolf Hitler was just a struggling artist … the tyrannical monster he’d become not even a possibility in his own eyes. Once his future is known, a searing – sometimes hilarious – match of wits and wills ensues. Pleas are made. Truths land like bricks. Desires shift and change with each word uttered. Every terse moment is lensed in stark black & white by DP Scott Uhlfelder and complemented by the ingenious work of Sound Designer Lindsay Alvarez. And those moments lead to a finale that’s at once surprising and not.
That has a lot to do with Matt Devine’s captivating portrayal of young Adolf. Perhaps no figure in history is more reviled than Hitler. But many of those histories glance over his early days. In the film’s opening moments, Devine imbues young Adolf with the proud idealism of a burgeoning artist. He’s soft spoken. He’s kind to his visitor. And eager to talk about his art. As the story progresses, that idealism begins to crumble. His reaction at learning the fate of his art school aspirations is one of the funniest moments you’ll see in a movie this year. Funny in that ‘it’s so sad you have to laugh’ sort of way. Devine captures the nuance so succinctly that you almost feel sorry for his Hitler. But he captures the devious intellect that became Hitler’s strongest weapon with equal aplomb. When he turns it on, Devine’s performance becomes a masterclass in duality and a complex portrait of the fractured ego that eventually gave way to a deep rooted evil.
It’s a timely portrait at that. A Study In Tyranny often feels like the sort of mirror the world needs to examine the precarious moment in history we’ve created. There’s a devastating bit of dialogue about 5 minutes in where Ellis’ character explains to Hitler how the tyrant came to power. And yes, his tactics sound eerily similar to the ones employed by the current President of the United States. The moment serves as a profound reminder that we all (on both sides of the issue) need to be wary of the road ahead. And that history is a stubborn beast never too far from repeating itself.
That sentiment has been tossed about a lot in the last few months. But rarely as elegantly as in A Study In Tyranny.
Side Note – be sure to watch the end credits. ‘Cause they’re oddly fascinating.
Meet The Crew:
Directed by: Andrew Laurich Written by: Gabriel Miller & Andrew Laurich Starring: Stephen Ellis & Matt Devine Director of Photography: Scott Uhlfelder Sound Designer: Lindsay Alvarez Edited by: Randall Maxwell
I hope you enjoy A Study In Tyranny! If you aren’t yet familiar with the names Andrew Laurich and Gabriel Miller, well, now’s the time to learn. Their first collaboration – A Reasonable Request – is one of my favorite shorts from the past couple of years. And Miller went on to write another in While You Were Away. Here’s hoping their hard work and piercing insights land them a big screen gig in the near future. This guys are the real deal. And their ideas are getting too big for the short form world. A Study In Tyranny is ample proof of that. While we’re waiting for their followups, I highly recommend checking out those aforementioned films. While you’re poking around, be sure to check out a few of the thousands of other short films – animated, live action and documentary – the Vimeo team have made available for your viewing pleasure (via desktop or mobile device – SWEET!). You’re sure to find something interesting and you may just stumble across the next great filmmaker.