Firecracker (2004)
By: Michelle R. September 19, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
7 Arts (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. 112 minutes
The Movie
Director: Steve Balderson
Starring: Mike Patton, Karen Black, Susan Traylor, Kathleen Wilhoite, Jak Kendall
Screenplay: Steve Balderson
Music: Justin R. Durban, Lindsay Anne Klemm, The Enigma
Country: USA
Wamego, Kansas, mid-1950s: Shy, sensitive Jimmy (Jak Kendall), a talented pianist, is relentlessly physically and emotionally abused by his alcoholic, redneck older brother David (Mike Patton), and stifled by his fanatically religious mother (Karen Black). Jimmy finds temporary solace from his hellish family life in a traveling sideshow carnival, where he meets an aging cabaret chanteuse, Sandra (Karen Black). Captivated by her faded glamour, he sees Sandra as his salvation, and begs her to let him join the circus as an accompanying musician. Little does Jimmy realise that Sandra's seemingly perfect world is nightmarishly similar to his…she desperately wants to return to her hometown but is imprisoned and degraded by Frank, the sadistic carnival owner (Mike Patton). Jimmy and Sandra's friendship allows them both fledgling happiness, and each strive for their own freedom. But the town's white-picket fence facade is shattered upon the disappearance and suspected murder of David, and a subsequent investigation by the cluey Police Chief Ed (Susan Traylor) opens a Pandora's Box of deceit, cover-up, suffering, and denial…

Based upon actual events, Firecracker is the result of seven years of meticulous research and preparation by director/writer Steve Balderson, and succeeds as a dark suspense drama, merging a combination of arresting visual style, intense plot development, and skilled acting. Karen Black and Mike Patton shine in particular in their dual roles as Eleanor/Sandra and David/Frank respectively. Black's ability to transform between two completely different characters - dowdy housewife and mysterious singer – demonstrates how accomplished this unfortunately overlooked actress is. Patton, lead singer of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, gives a chilling, menacing performance as David, injecting a genuine atmosphere of tension into each scene he appears. He is a little over the top in the part of Frank however, the only letdown of an otherwise superb acting debut.

On the technical side, the photography, lighting and camera angles are brilliantly executed, and belie the constraints of the film's relatively low budget. A stylistic high point is the alternation between black and white and colour throughout the movie – scenes at the carnival have been shot in vivid, saturated 'candy-colour' – a representation of possible freedom for Jimmy, whilst in contrast, the stuffy, repressed town of Wamego is stuck in the confines of stark black and white.
Firecracker is presented in a crisp, clean 16x9 widescreen transfer that gives much justice to the exaggerated Technicolor scheme – colours almost 'jump' off the screen.
Audio is available in Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 tracks, and on both mixes dialogue, sound and music is clear and at correct levels. The film's soundtrack, a haunting and effective mix of dramatic cues and piano solos, soars out of the speakers, further drawing the viewer into 1950's small-town USA.
Extra Features
Firecracker's original theatrical trailer and audio commentary with director Balderson, who presents an occasionally dry but very in-depth and informative interpretation of the film.
The Verdict
A stunning example of independent filmmaking from a vastly talented cast and crew, Firecracker is a slow-burning fuse of a movie, fueled by the series of dark and disturbing events in the narrative, and a harrowing mood which remains long after the conclusion. Steve Balderson is definitely a name to watch out for in future…
Movie Score
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