As the oldest film school in the U.S. — and the alma mater of filmmakers as accomplished and diverse as George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, Ryan Coogler and Rian Johnson — USC Cinematic Arts established a reputation for skilled craftsmanship, rich community and compelling storytelling. This week we spotlight their newest generation of filmmakers, working in a wide range of genres and styles.
Alex is a roofer from the U.K. working in Los Angeles, often on top of the high-rise towers that stud the city landscape. He’s also a heavy drinker who’s fond of giving his best friend Jeff a hard time.
After one night out with his crew and many, many drinks, Alex woozily drives homes and catches sight of someone throwing a man off a bridge.
In his inebriated state, he believes it was Jeff who threw the man into the water below. But because he was drunk, he’s not sure — and his uncertainty forces him to question not just his friendship, but his sobriety.
Writer-director Adam Linzey’s short thriller is all about blurring lines: those between perception and reality, between intoxication and clarity and between friend and enemy. As its main character attempts to unravel a mystery he’s ill-equipped to take on, he seems to set off a domino effect in his own life that causes him to question himself and his decisions.
The visuals are excellent at capturing a general sense of alienation, especially as the construction workers toil on roofs surrounded by the cityscapes around them, devoid of context and connection. It underscores that Alex is a stranger in a strange land — and perhaps a stranger to himself.
His uneasiness within himself seems to manifest itself in his combative rapport with his friends, especially Jeff, a genial yet wary man who seems almost the opposite of Alex, with a stable family life and a sense of comfort with himself. The performances and writing are alert to the way these men talk and yet don’t quite communicate with one another — an opacity and gap that the storyline exploits to maximize tension and force Alex to question not just what happened, but himself. But as he penetrates deeper into the central mystery of the story, he is led into an even deeper void.
“Jeff” combines the propulsive sense of craft and pacing that characterizes a thriller with a more brooding character portrait. The film is named after Alex’s friend, but Alex’s need to know and understand propels the forward motion of the narrative. The great irony is that the story underscores just how unknowable people can be — both to others and to ourselves.