Review By Keith Watson
3 Holes and a Smoking Gun (alternately titled “Three Holes, Two Brads, and a Smoking Gun”) is very much a writer’s movie. As Richard Brody wrote of J.C. Chandor’s films, you can practically hear scriptwriter Scott Fivelson’s computer keyboard deterministically clacking away throughout 3 Holes. It’s a movie about a screenplay so brilliant, so obviously a pot of gold once it gets made, that people are willing to kill to get their hands on it. This premise is obviously slightly preposterous—box office success is almost never based on how great a film’s screenplay was; it’s based on pre-awareness, star power, etc., and how many supposedly brilliant Black List screenplays have flopped terribly when they were actually produced? But Fivelson is smart enough to know that the screenplay within his screenplay is nothing more than a MacGuffin. As the script’s frequent references to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre might tip you off, this is a movie about the infectious power of greed.
Three Holes primarily centers around Jack “J.F.K.” Ariamehr (Zuher Khan), a young aspiring film writer who makes money as a sign twirler, and Bobby Blue Day (James Wilder), the teacher of Jack’s screenplay-writing class. Jack has presented the aforementioned brilliant screenplay to Bobby, who claims he can get it in the hands of a superstar director. As we will learn in flashback, both characters are hiding something.
Since much of the movie is essentially a two-hander set in a tiny apartment, a lot rests with the actors. While Khan is a bit uneven in places, he does generally convey the desperation and in-over-his-head feeling required for the role. Wilder’s performance is quite strong; the weary expression on his too-tanned-for-NYC face nicely capturing the air of a washed-up West Coaster adrift in the Big Apple. The character actors in several bit parts also bring a nice old-school crime drama feel to the film. I particularly enjoyed British actor Howard McNair in a small role as an ebullient, guileless fellow scriptwriter.
Fivelson has written a decent script. His screenplay has a solid structure without relying too much on genre cliches, something of which all too many low-budget scriptwriters are guilty. (Though there is a long sequence during which Jack is looking for a typewriter to match the type used on the screenplay where I kept wondering why he couldn’t just retype it on a computer? But maybe I missed something.) Director Hilarion Banks doesn’t do a whole lot to elevate or shape the material. Many scenes which no doubt read well on the page are allowed to play out in overlong, somewhat repetitious scenes. Banks does produce the same ethereally evil aura around the typewriter that we know from Barton Fink.
In the end, 3 Holes doesn’t have anything particularly novel to say about greed or scriptwriting or the desire to make something out of one’s life. But Fivelson and Banks have crafted a moderately engaging thriller with some fine performances and momentary flashes of something richer and deeper.