Written by: Matt Patti | June 1st, 2020
A Clear Shot (Nick Leisure, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.
In 1991, America experienced its largest hostage situation of all time (to this day) when four gunmen held 41 hostages at gunpoint at a Good Guys electronic store in Sacramento, California. The gunmen made several outrageous demands to the police, including asking for one-thousand-year-old plants, a helicopter to transport them to Thailand, and bulletproof body armor that covers from head to toe, straight out of Robocop. The standoff between the gunmen and the police lasted eight and a half hours. Director Nick Leisure, who shared with me in an interview that he grew up in Sacramento and was on the scene watching the events unfold outside of Good Guys, is now releasing a film inspired by what happened on that fateful day almost 30 years ago.
A Clear Shot stays true to many of the facts of the actual 1991 hostage situation, but adds in a bit of dramatic flair and fictional characters, as well. The film begins quite quickly, with people shopping around “Leisure Guys” electronic store (an allusion to the director’s last name) when four young men with guns enter the store and round up everyone inside. The four gunmen consist of three brothers and a friend of theirs who are fed up with their life in America (they are all Thai), being mistreated and struggling to adapt to the culture. They yearn to go home to Thailand and make demands both consistent and inconsistent with that goal. Detective Gomez (Mario Van Peebles, Armed) arrives on the scene and attempts to negotiate with the gunmen, but as ridiculous request after ridiculous request is denied, the gunmen’s patience and tempers take a turn for the worse. Can Detective Gomez strike a deal with the men before anyone gets hurt, or worse, killed?
I went into this film without any knowledge of the real-life hostage crisis, knowing only it was inspired by a true story. I found out after the fact that, while most of the plot points stayed true to the real situation, a few were fictional, including the character of Detective Gomez, himself. It is sometimes difficult to review films like this, but I will share my opinions based off of the film’s merit as drama and on how well it captures the actual situation or how factually correct it is.
The best aspects of this film are all related to its characters, their motivations, and how they interact with one another. This film is unique in the fact that it makes the audience sympathize with the gunmen, or at least with most of them. They are immigrants that were forced to move to America, live with their unsympathetic father, are poor, and simply feel like they do not fit in with the community. Flashbacks help give us a glimpse into what their life was like before this and why they feel they need a change. Most of them – including their leader, Loi – just want to go back home to Thailand and don’t want anyone to get hurt. However, one of the brothers, Long, has violent tendencies and doesn’t mind hurting, or even killing, people. The other gunmen attempt to keep him under control but do not always succeed. Pham is an intelligent young man who wants to go to college, but his father won’t let him and forces him to stay home and work. During the siege, Pham is nervous, uncomfortable, and at points terrified, whimpering and shaking in a corner while holding his shotgun up to the crowd of hostages. The fact that all of the gunmen are unique and have their own motivations helps to make them interesting, three-dimensional characters. Their interactions with the hostages and the police are all different and make for an intriguing plotline.
The activity outside of the store is equally as interesting, as Detective Gomez struggles with holding the SWAT team off from bursting inside of the store and creating a potentially violent scene that might put the hostages in danger. He is patient and willing to talk to the gunmen while some police, including those in the SWAT team, are growing restless about the situation and want to take quick action. The disconnect between Gomez and the SWAT team yields major miscommunication and defiance and leads to a bevy of problems leading up to a shocking ending.
While the film captures its main characters well, the same cannot be said for some of the minor characters in the film. The hostages, specifically, are unremarkable, uninteresting, and suffer from some poor performances, souring the film a bit. Many of the characters make some terrible decisions throughout the film, as well, including Gomez who decides to drink, flirt, and joke around during this tense situation, which I feel is a bit strange and out of place. The film thrives off the tension and suspense built up by decisions characters make, but not many consequences are felt until near the end of the film.
Overall, A Clear Shot is an interesting look at the true events that took place inside the Good Guys electronic store in 1991. While some of the performances are underwhelming, the main characters are fleshed out well and all have clear motivations, making difficult decisions that lead to much suspense. Don’t go into this film expecting a huge action flick, as you won’t get that, but the situation is certainly frightening and tense enough to hold interest. Even though some plot details are fictitious, the film overall does a great job of capturing what it must have felt like to be a hostage, police officer, or even one of the gunmen on that day back in 1991.