Man from Reno

Writer-director Dave Boyle’s methodical thriller is steeped in the rich tradition of San Francisco noir, yet never suffocates under its influences. Lurking within Man from Reno‘s fateful path-crossings and other story pivots is a sly comment on the dislocating experience of immigrant assimilation — but it’s also just a riveting good yarn. A mystery author (Ayako Fujitani), hiding out from her own hype in San Francisco, hooks up with a fellow stranger in a strange land (Kazuki Kitamura), whose disappearance thereafter seems like more than just a post-tryst retreat. He’s of interest to a small-town sheriff (Pepe Serna) working a case that fell into his lap — or, more accurately, onto the hood of his car — and also the harbinger of a real-life mystery this author may or may not want solved. Co-writing with Joel Clark and Michael Lerman, Boyle has a knack for orchestrating moments, merging plot with mood. He gets great mileage from unexpected visitors’ arrivals and departures — be they people knocking on a hotel room door or turtles floating in a toilet tank — and grants us the welcome privilege of puzzling out distinctions between sinister and nonsequitur. Handsomely shot by DP Richard Wong, with Fujitani (and certain city spaces) holding the camera’s attention very well, this adroitly designed production may not be as polished as a manufactured big-studio project would be, but it’s all the more enlivened for it, with an aura of creative enthusiasm, maximized resources, and durable storytelling.