Unsafe Harbor

Washington City Paper | September 22, 2006
The movie opens in a blue lagoon, where two pretty youngsters—not Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, but just as attractive in their way—splash and hug. Shy (Orlando Bloom) and Andrea (Zoë Saldana) may seem as peaceful as the water that envelops them, but he’s quick to ask nervously where her family is. “You’re safe,” she replies. Cut to the title, Haven, which that quick exchange has already revealed is ironic.

In fact, the name is doubly ironic, since the couple lives in the Cayman Islands, which are known foremost as tax havens. Shy and Andrea have nothing to do with that; he works for a fishing fleet, and she’s his boss’ high-school-student daughter. But writer-director Frank E. Flowers has already abandoned the lovers, temporarily, to introduce Allen (Stephen Dillane) and Ridley (Bill Paxton). The former is a British-bred Caymans banker who’s been shielding cash for the latter, a Miami businessman about to be visited by treasury agents. Tipped off to his imminent arrest, Ridley stuffs some cash in a gym bag, picks up almost-18-year-old daughter Pippa (Agnes Bruckner), and heads for the islands. He’s bought a condo there in anticipation of just such a development, but Pippa’s totally unprepared for the sudden relocation. In fact, she’s angry enough about it to take off with the first person she meets; that happens to be Fritz (Victor Rasuk), a smooth-talking ne’er-do-well who’s been napping in the vacant apartment.

At some point in the time-hopping storyline, everyone gets into trouble. Financial investigators are trying to hook both Allen and Ripley. Andrea celebrates “turning legal” by sleeping with Shy, which sends her father (Robert Wisdom) and brother, Hammer (Anthony Mackie), into a rage. Hammer attacks Shy, scarring him. Months later, most of the characters converge on a party, where Fritz squires the newly arrived Pippa. Fritz has caught a glimpse of Ripley’s cash and blabs to a local tough guy who threatens him. Andrea has lost her innocence, and the embittered Shy is spoiling for a second confrontation with Hammer. Fritz takes Pippa joy-riding on a yacht, and they’re quickly busted, which gives Ripley another mess to clean up. As the sins of the fathers rebound on their children, the narrative shatters and coalesces in the manner of such feverish Nicolas Roeg sagas as Eureka.

Made in 2004, and shelved after some adverse film-fest reactions, Haven has now been recut and resurrected. The reaction has been mixed; the New York Times recently called the movie “even phonier” than Crash, with which it shares a producer. It’s true that Haven, like all web-of-fate flicks, is propelled by contrivance. Yet it feels grounded in authentic locations and details, and the individual plotlines are mainly convincing. Flowers is a Caymans native who knows the socio-cultural terrain, especially the complexity of the islands’ economic and racial divides. Crash, for example, would never have envisioned a romance between a poor white fisherman and an Afro-Caribbean princess. The clash between Shy and Hammer, the romantic transgressor versus the dutiful clan defender, even has the bloody tang of classic tragedy.

To a large extent, that’s because the acting is persuasive. Mackie and Dillane are always dynamic, but Bloom, frequently overwhelmed in effects-heavy spectacles, here gives one of his strongest film performances. Saldana can’t pull off Andrea’s ultimate decline, which is formulaic, but she nicely captures the appeal of her almost-grown character’s first incarnation. Rasuk, who was Raising Victor Vargas’ bad-boy charmer, plays a similar role without simply retracing his steps, and Paxton conveys the tempered humanity of the white-collar rogue. Most of these characters would have become entangled only in a movie, but individually they seem authentic. Haven is no masterwork, but Flowers orchestrates local color and intricate melodrama with more flair than many more experienced directors.

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