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Film Review: “The Gateway” Succeeds in Telling an Engaging Story, Even If It Is Risk-Free

Film poster: “The Gateway”

The Gateway (Michele Civetta, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.

The Gateway takes a classic cops-and-robbers story and replaces the “cops” portion with a civil worker with a gritty set of flaws to him, which immediately sets the tone for a new story experience as we see a more personal look at lives affected by the drug trade. Unfortunately, The Gateway’s content errs on the side of caution, and as a result never reaches its full potential as a cinematic experience. The film tells the story of Parker (Shea Whigham, Amazon’s Homecoming series), a down-on-his-luck social worker and former boxer. Parker’s devotion to the people he’s assigned takes a turn for the worst as he becomes involved with Dahlia (Olivia Munn, The Predator), a single mother whose ex-boyfriend, Mike (Zach Avery, Last Moment of Clarity) has just been released from prison, falling right back in with his drug boss (Frank Grillo, Boss Level). As Mike and his crimes start to endanger Dahlia and her daughter, Ashley (Taegen Burns, Disney +’s The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers), Parker must choose whether to let it go, or intervene and risk everything.

The film’s overall premise and follow through is certainly a worthwhile experience, taking the distinct view of a social worker and real-life instances where their job comes in handy. I found this angle to be the film’s most outstanding element as it relates to films such as Sicario and 21 Bridges—films that take the concept of cops as heroes and drug dealers as the baddies—and instead represents a social worker. Granted, Whigham’s portrayal still has a sense of edge and aggression that may not fully represent the life of a social worker, yet various scenes in the film show the struggles and limitations that a social worker would encounter in emergency situations.

l-r: Shea Whigham and Olivia Munn in THE GATEWAY. Photo courtesy of Antony Platt. ©Lionsgate

Alongside an interesting concept, The Gateway also comes with a lot of witty humor, as well as some very fun cinematography and editing. I was widely impressed with an extensive long-take shot to represent Mike and his friends executing a heist. The very limited appearances of Keith David (Night School), Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Mark Boone Junior (Run with the Hunted) create a small bit of emotional depth, as well as witty dialogue in scenes alongside Whigham. Certainly, from start to finish The Gateway leaves a lot to relate to and characters that make the viewer invested in what happens.

While the film is a satisfying experience. The Gateway plays it safe for the duration of the film, however. After the gripping and emotionally charged opening, we start to lose a sense of personal connection to the social-worker storyline, as the film becomes more about the suspense behind the ex-boyfriend and his “last mission” gone wrong. The result is a sluggish and unoriginal midpoint that takes some time to get us to the main plot and drags the film down.

Bruce Dern in THE GATEWAY. Photo courtesy of Antony Platt. ©Lionsgate

Needless to say, The Gateway does highlight many gratifying performances by key Hollywood stars, some of whom bring their best performances in many ways. The film is at its strongest when it embraces the genuine moments found in its content, and I would love to see movies in the future that dive even deeper into the very real situations found in social work in various parts of the country. As it stands, The Gateway chooses to deviate from this introspective manner and instead chooses the safe route. The result is by no means less than entertaining and emotional, yet not all it can be.


Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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