Some men run from their dark past. Others face it head on.
Tainted starts with a quote from Pope Francis: “Evil only gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone.” But when you are already so far deep inside a world beset by dangerous ideology, getting out of a violent spiral through peaceful means is easier said than done.
Lance (Alan van Sprang) knows a thing or two about leaving his past behind. In an early scene, he walks into a tattoo shop. Asks if they do removals. The black woman (strangely, the only one in the movie) behind the counter responds positively… until he reveals a swastika. Understandably, she politely declines. Lance, in a metaphor for the movie as a whole, resorts to using an iron to stamp himself clean.
Having served hard-time in Canadian jail as a result of his time in an Aryan mob gang with ties to the Russian mafia, Lance is looking to get his life back on track. He finds a shining ray of hope in the form of bar singer and local neighbour Anna (Sara Waisglass), who takes a liking to him despite his gruff tone and dislike of chit-chat. But like both the title Tainted, and his improvised tattoo-method removal suggests, Lance cannot expect a fresh start to come so easily.
He finds a chance when his old boss offers him one last deal — tied to an American passport and a bag of cash. But as Pope Francis says, brutality can only get you so far. Violence — caught in gritty close-ups — has real weight in Tainted. Characters may smash each other’s heads into walls, beating them into pulp, but these decisions are considered with real humanity. While more consideration could’ve gone into the actual white supremacist ideals that go into such clans — as explored with more dexterity in Guy Nattiv’s Skin — Tainted doesn’t ask us to pity Lance. There is the sense that he has made bad choice after bad choice in his life, and now the past is violently catching up with him. Meanwhile, those after Lance can’t be categorized as cartoon villains either; crucial scenes humanizing them despite the awful things they are a part of.
Tainted is scored by a searching synth soundtrack that is suitably for the gritty tone of the movie, as well as the ironic choice of Bessie Smith songs, most notably her rendition of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. Using a working-class, bisexual black woman who rose to be the most popular blues singer of the twenties and thirties is certainly a choice for this story of a literal neo-Nazi turning his life around (and your mileage is sure to vary) — but it does exemplify the brave-decision making at the heart of this difficult story. Here is a genre picture where punches actually hurt, bullets actually kill, and decisions can really change your life forever. With his first time feature, Brent Cote has made a strong, solid picture that delivers on both the moral and entertainment front.