The social worker at the centre of The Gateway isn’t the atypical embodiment that we usually conjure in our mind when we think of the profession. And it’s because this character – Parker, played by long-time character actor Shea Whigham – is so drastically removed from what we expect that The Gateway, on occasion, feels like a more exciting film than it ultimately is.
Carrying himself in a manner that suggests he’s both in the wrong movie and the wrong decade, Whigham’s Parker is less social worker and more hard-boiled detective. There’s some interesting and mostly unlikely exchanges that take place, but it keeps Michele Civetta’s film from completely succumbing to the rather standard narrative it ultimately adopts and presents in an entirely unremarkable fashion.
Said narrative is projected forward by the trials and tribulations of Dahlia (Olivia Munn), a casino dealer who is struggling with addiction as she raises her 12-year-old daughter, Ashley (Taegen Burns). Dahlia is one of Parker’s cases, though it’s evident they have a friendship that extends beyond professional courtesy, something that irks Mike (Zach Avery), her fresh-from-prison husband who immediately resorts back to drug dealing upon his release. Mike’s a typically volatile creation, and there’s very little reason needed for Parker to rouse on him, but when his latest deal involves young Ashley (unbeknownst to her), violent shit hits the fan.
Bringing to mind the similar grizzled credibility of such genre players as Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin, Whigham – somehow in one of his first lead roles – knows how to toe the line between that hard-boiled temperament and that melodramatic mentality, though the film itself suffers from something of an identity crisis, unsure of how to navigate a serious and dramatic arc with shoot-outs and heist sequences that feel more injected to pass time rather than project the story forward.
Not so much a bad movie as it is confused, the more action-driven scenes feel wildly out of place in a film that needed to go against the expected grain and embrace story over shallow spectacle. It’s a treat to see Whigham get his due, and a small supporting turn from Frank Grillo expectedly livens up proceedings – even if he feels like he belongs in a different film – but The Gateway, which could have been a serviceable action film or a gritty drama, unfortunately does itself a disservice by attempting to be both and failing to commit to either.
The Gateway is available now to rent or buy on DVD and Digital.