"Delinquent" is one of those great little near-no-budget movies that every now and then seem to come out of nowhere to give hope for a truly independent American cinema. It marks a stunning feature debut for writer-director Peter Hall, who never makes a false move as he builds suspense right from the start.
"Delinquent" is a somewhat misleading title in that the word is so automatically modified by "juvenile." But if anyone in this picture is a delinquent, it's the parent. Jeff Paul's Ben is an ignorant, racist, mean-tempered, hard-drinking single father much hated by his only son, 15-year-old Tim (Desmond Devenish), who blames him for driving his mother to her recent suicide. After hitting the skids, Ben has managed to land a job as a cop in an upstate New York village near the town where he and his family once lived.
The brutal, raging Ben demands respect from Tim but succeeds only in instilling in his son an escalating fear mixed dangerously with defiance. For all his intelligence, Tim is too young and too blinded by emotion to be able to see over the wall of anger between them to realize that his father is grief-stricken over his wife's death. Ben believes his new job has given him a second chance.
Outraged that Tim, heretofore an outstanding student, is on the verge of flunking out of school, Ben sees his new career potentially jeopardized by any wayward behavior on the part of his son. Thus, the cramped trailer this father and son share seems like a tinderbox: You become filled with dread as you become sure something awful is going to happen between them.
Having established an atmosphere of increasing tension so deftly, Hall expands upon it as, after a typically volatile father-son argument, Tim runs off and ends up breaking into a lovely old house in a beautiful rural setting.
As we grow increasingly concerned with Tim, who is a likable youth of sensitivity and imagination in the throes of burgeoning sexual maturity, Hall then switches to Tracy (Shawn Batten). The daughter of the family that owns the house Tim breaks into, Tracy is a pretty young teenager with whom Tim has become infatuated once he's discovered a home video of her. As it turns out, Tracy is in the midst of a major personal crisis.
As in a Claude Lelouch movie, you begin to wonder whether these two young people, attractive and intellectually sophisticated, will ever meet and, if so, what the consequences will be. Hall is breathtakingly astute at involving us in these young people's destinies and in never letting up as his film becomes increasingly taut.
"Delinquent," which boasts an effectively nerve-jangling score by Gang of Four, its first for a film, is a highly accomplished work in which its cast is never less than compelling. This is one suspense picture that gives way to a larger contemplation of the interplay of fate and emotion.
* Unrated. It includes some strong language, considerable violence.
Desmond Devenish: Tim
Shawn Batten: Tracy DeLors
Jeff Paul: Ben
Marisa Townshend: Mrs. Richman
Ian Eaton: Eddie
A Rice Arts Management & Beyond Films presentation. Writer-producer-director Peter Hall. Cinematographer Todd Crockett. Editor Thom Zimny. Music Gang of Four. Art directors M.E. Guarnaccia, Annette Mohr. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.
* Exclusively at the Regent, 1045 Broxton Ave., Westwood, (310) 208-3259, and the University 6, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, (714) 854-8811.