It takes some time for Man from Reno to get going, but once it does the film will never let you go. Setting up two sets of characters, even when one group is a far more traditional type than the other, takes a bit of time, but all of that time they put into getting to know our two leads makes the impact of the final few scenes really hit with a wallop.
Following the detective skills of a pair of individuals, both of whom, technically, do it for a living, is a familiar trope in mystery cinema, but the way the two come at the case from separate starting points helps make this particular story all the more intriguing. The background of one of our detectives, Aki, played by Ayako Fujitani, is especially engaging as she’s put in a world I’ve never really seen put on film before. Aki is a very successful crime novelist in Japan, and her hideaway world in San Francisco intersects with a lot of elements of crime we usually don’t get to see. To spoil what would ruin a lot of the film’s fun, but the interesting world the criminals play in makes the film that much more intriguing and unique.
The other half of the story starts as a more traditional police detective tale, as a maybe getting too old for his boots sheriff, Paul, played by Pepe Serna, gets caught up in a mysterious hit and run case that gets much more nefarious in a hurry. Serna feels like he could have walked out of No Country for Old Men, maybe a slightly cheerier version of that film, but by the end of Man from Reno he might feel as helpless as Tommy Lee Jones does in that Coen Bros. picture. As Paul and Aki’s orbits come closer, and closer, together we develop quite a bond with both of them and when they get to finally form a bond with one another that is where the film really takes off.
I hate to go further into the plot as this is a mystery picture after all, but know that there are plenty of surprises and turns along the way that will keep almost any fan of the genre guessing. This is in large part do to the fantastic script from writer/director Dave Boyle and his team, which not only nails its characters, but knows how to play misdirection particularly well as our detectives try to crack the case. Boyle’s direction is mighty impressive, and so assured, I think I will find myself checking out some of his older work next time I have a chance. The guy knows how to build tension and find humor in dark places, but Boyle isn’t afraid to take us places we don’t want to go. Boyle pulls no punches.
Serna and Fujitani are both great as our lead detectives, with Fujitani especially standing out. She is a commanding presence no matter what language she is using, as she is one of the strongest female protagonists I’ve seen on-screen in years. She doesn’t even have to punch a guy (though she does mash some fingers)! Fujitani does a great job of letting the audience warm up to Aki, and while she might come off a tad icy at the beginning you will be rooting for her in no time. Serna doesn’t have a whole lot of gears to give us, but his wise grandpa vibe feels laid back and assured in all the right ways. The script gives him, like Aki, many moments to shine as a detective, and his successes are all the more charming thanks to his calm demeanor. Kazuki Kitamura is also devilishly charming as Akira and his role’s evolution really allows Kitamura to show us many different faces of his character.
Man from Reno is a wonderful little mystery set in and around San Francisco, with a plot that will keep you guessing and hoping for justice till the very last frame. Ayako Fujitani could be a star and Dave Boyle deserves a shot at a movie with a bigger budget. If he can make a film of this size look this good, I can’t wait to see what he does on a larger scale. Man from Reno is full of surprises and you would be remiss not to go find out what they are.