Stacy Keach and Liz Sklar in Rob Nilsson's "Imbued"
San Francisco-based indie filmmaker Rob Nilsson has admired actor Stacy Keach since seeing him in John Huston's classic 1972 film "Fat City," where Keach played aging boxer Billy Tully, a washed-up boozer whose brush with a younger boxer (Jeff Bridges) prompts an ill-fated attempt at come-back in both the ring and the bedroom. As a story whose plotline is more valued for its enduring resonance than originality, the latest variation takes aim of this year's Oscars -- as it happens, with Jeff Bridges now in the senior role, this time engaging his demons on a slightly different stage with guitar and mic instead of gloves -- as "Crazy Heart." In another neat bit of irony, Keach -- who remains one of our best actors -- is about to start work on a forthcoming TV series, playing a boxer's father.
The gambler and the showgirl-prostitute, plying their respective trades out on the wild edges of America's unfinished frontier, is another familiar fable (though "Imbued" wears that cloak lightly and with some ambivalence -- there's one bit with the national anthem that steers us away from over-reliance on symbolism.) This time, Nilsson sets the action in today, from sunset to sunrise on the 32nd floor of a sleek and soaring but pointedly unfinished skyscraper, San Francisco's Infinity Tower. We should not be too fooled by the modernity of this glass-walled apartment where a man and woman camp for the night -- it's still littered with step-ladders, paint trays, outsized unframed canvases on stretchers, a broken desk chair and a mattress on the floor, all of which Nilsson makes us notice right away. For all the distant sparkling lights of the city's skyline, the balcony overlooks an exit ramp off a deserted stretch of freeway. Though wired to the ether of the outside world via cell phones and laptop -- and via something more primitive too, in the form of a good-luck Mama Effa statue -- Donatello and Lydia surely occupy as remote and isolated an outpost as any in American cinema.