If you never knew that something was there in the first place, will you miss it when it’s gone? The psychology of distraction is the bread-and-butter of the magician’s trade: it’s the art of dangling bright shiny objects in front of us so we don’t see the shadowy tricks being pulled. Something of this dynamic is happening with “Exposed,” a new thriller starring Keanu Reeves. Unless you’re paying close attention, you’re unlikely to notice the erasure of black and brown bodies in favor of white stars onscreen.
Scheduled for theatrical release early in January 2016, “Exposed” is currently being promoted via the usual outlets. I watched the trailer, which was most memorable for the scene-chewing contributions of Oscar-winning actor Mira Sorvino, offset by Keanu’s trademark brooding. It seemed fairly predictable thriller fare, and that’s precisely the problem. Earlier this month, blogger Asia Worgan noticed that director Gee Malik Linton removed his name from the project to express his disgust at the way the film had been manipulated. (“Declan Dale,” who is currently credited as director, is Linton’s pseudonym.)
Originally conceived as a “serious drama that focused [on] social issues that affect women,“ the film had been titled “Daughter of God,” and prominently featured black and Latino actors. Then Lionsgate studio decided that it wasn’t sufficiently commercial, and reshaped the film by aggressively editing it. After “Daughter of God” was cut by more than 20 minutes, explains Danielle C. Belton, the “once dreamy-but-haunting, female-centered drama is turned into a disjointed thriller with few thrills. Some characters’ parts are almost cut entirely, diminishing the effect of the final twist of the film and causing it to fall flat. And the impact of a subplot about police corruption and brutality is diluted to make more time for Reeves to brood, an attempt to pad out what was intended as a thin role.” The end result of all that trimming was a new film: “Exposed.”
If nothing else, the fact that there are two versions of the same film help us grasp why there’s an Oscar for film editing, because we’re trained not to notice the cuts. However, because it’s an original story that we have not already seen, it’s difficult to gauge what was lost. For the same reason, unfortunately, audiences aren’t likely to get outraged at the film’s whitewashing of storylines, characters, and entire neighborhoods in the manner of “Gods of Egypt,” and “Noah,” or to notice that the marketing emphasis on Reeves is a form of whitecasting. It’s a question of taking away that which you never knew about, so how can you protest? And even if you did, would anyone listen to a plea for better editing?
There’s an analysis system called the “Ulmer Number,” which runs from 1-100, and helps studios decide which films to finance by scoring an actor’s bankability. In an undated post, James Ulmer noted that hardly any stars are now capable of guaranteeing returns. Where there used to be dozens, such as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Tom Hanks, there are “only two left,” Ulmer notes: Johnny Depp and Will Smith. (Yes, women fared poorly on the Ulmer list). In other words, as a colleague of mine in the industry suggests, the studio’s decision to cut out the least recognizable actors and turn “Exposure” into a Keanu film, may at least have been partly based on crunching the Ulmer numbers and deciding, perhaps shortsightedly, to follow the theory of profitability rather than the trusting the cinematic product and listening to audiences clamoring for original stories.
So “Daughter of God” may have been gritty, bilingual, textured “masterpiece,” but the trailer for “Exposure” presents moviegoers with a story about a white cop in a rough neighborhood having to find his conscience and Save the Girl. In other words, business as usual. Again. Will we miss the forgettable when it’s over?