The Channel (2023)

Directed by: William Kaufman
Distributed by: Brainstorm Media

Written by Michael Clawson

William Kaufman’s “The Channel” begins with a bank heist. When the sequence concludes, a shell-shocked bank teller is asked by an FBI agent if she remembers anything specific about the heavily armed thieves who brutalized her co-workers and made out with bags of cash. “Guns. All I remember seeing is guns,” she says. If, some time from now, I’m asked what I remember of “The Channel,” I suspect my answer will be similar in spirit to the bank worker’s. This direct-to-video thriller’s generic storytelling is likely to fade from memory, but the staggering volume of gunfire it contains will be harder to forget.

The bullets start flying because that opening heist doesn’t go smoothly. Clayne Crawford (“The Killing of Two Lovers”) and Max Martini play brothers Jamie and Mic, ex-military criminals living in New Orleans, who are blindsided by the arrival of police before they’ve made their getaway from the robbery that kick-starts the film. After the lengthiest of the movie’s numerous kinetic shootouts, Jamie and Mic scamper away from the scene with one injured partner in tow and the rest of their crew left for dead (the cops have their share of casualties too). In charting the brothers’ ensuing efforts to evade the police and get out of New Orleans, Kaufman crafts a lean and brisk actioner that plays a bit like a B-movie version of “Heat.”

As with everyone in “The Channel,” neither Jamie nor Mic are all that thoughtfully sketched as characters, but they are engagingly contrasting personalities. Jamie is the gentle one, a would-be family man who has turned to a life of crime only to pay for his infant daughter’s medical bills. Mic, on the other hand, is a hot-tempered meathead, a certifiable nutso with zero concern for the mounting death toll as he and Jamie violently clash with the authorities and other criminals from across the city. Not for a second did I buy Crawford and Martini as real brothers, but both play their parts with conviction, and the vividness of Martini’s machismo and savagery is compelling on its own.

The movie’s indebtedness to “Heat” lies in the professionalism of its crooks, its lively exchanges of gunfire, and the balance of its attention to both sides of the law. In addition to tracking Jamie and Mic’s frenetic survival mission, Kaufman also spends time with the FBI as special agent Frank Ross (Nicoye Banks, very solid) hunts for clues as to Jamie and Mic’s whereabouts. In some moments, Kaufman’s visual direction also owes something to Michael Mann. In one chase sequence, the FBI tear through a residential neighborhood on foot in pursuit of Mic. The camera jolts from side to side as it follows the character’s through anonymous homes, reminiscent of Mann’s handheld camera style.

Kaufman’s lack of originality certainly does hold the film back, as does the cheapness of the production. When Jamie has nightmares about his military time in the Middle East, images of anonymous, gun-toting foe are awash in a hue of sickly green. Even through a first person POV, the effect is bland rather than chilling. Jamie’s relationship with his girlfriend is also a dramatic bust: their pipe dream of escaping to a Bolivian paradise with their daughter is a dime a dozen in noirs of this kind. But “The Channel” still entertains more than it bores. While it fails as a portrait of brothers in crisis, the ballistics and earnest performances hold your attention. 

“The Channel (2023)” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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