Roland (Moon), a Chinese-American journalist who has been off in the concrete jungle chasing Pulitzers (and, it’s implied, passing as white), returns to his Midwestern hometown one morning circa 1952 on the tail of “a big story.” The death of a local Native American elder leads Roland to uncover a complicated conspiracy involving land grabs, job discrimination, a two-faced academic and all other manner of racial injustice. He gets little help from the town’s immigrant workers, most of whom seem to equate Roland’s career ambition with Uncle Tomism. Meanwhile, a portly racist (Santoro) who keeps a globe behind a bar to aid impromptu, drunken geopolitical lectures has become both the town’s mayor and editor of its only newspaper. Coincidence?
There’s no denying that Allen Blumberg’s mystery is a truly DIY labor of love—the first-time writer-director apparently self-financed it by borrowing money against his condo—but that doesn’t excuse the muddiness of its vision. Most of the budget seems to have gone into attempting period verisimilitude, and while the black-and-white cinematography evokes the look of a ’50s studio back lot, the art direction supports mind-numbingly obvious action and heavy-handed moralism. The ambience may be right, but the film lacks what makes actual midcentury middle-American noir so effective: subtext.