Within minutes of watching Bushwick, it becomes apparent that directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott could not be less interested in the geography of the neighborhood. After a lengthy scan of the catastrophic mess that is now Brooklyn, the film opens up inside what is supposedly an L train platform running on the Church Avenue subway stop – which only runs the B&Q trains – in Flatbush. Despite a sign indicating this, the scene appears to be photographed on the 7th Avenue F&G subway line in Park Slope. While none of this is what’s inherently wrong with the film, the main draw of seeing my favorite Brooklyn neighborhood cinematically depicted quickly vanished.
If you hadn’t heard by now, Bushwick is constructed to resemble one giant long take, but openly admits to consisting of 43 cuts throughout the course of its runtime. When Iñárritu took a similar approach with Birdman, Lubezki’s cuts avoided the blatant noticeability that cinematographer Lyle Vincent’s exhibits here on full display. I’ve certainly been dismissive of this approach to filmmaking in the past, but Sokurov’s Russian Ark serves as a perfect case study of how this technique can be pulled off masterfully when behind the right hands. The one-take “gimmick” certainly has a fair share of misfires but never has a project outright failed as miserably as Murnion and Milott.
There is inevitably always going to be a psychological inclination in one’s head when seeing a film that is operating as one entire take to keep an eye out for when the cuts are deceived into the composition. Vincent’s transitions between shots lack any understanding of fluidity, so each individual edit detrimentally withdraws the viewer from the movie.
Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria suffered from large portions of dead air within the narrative, but at least the film kept with the long-take approach it established. Not only does Bushwick have long, drawn-out portions of events that universally fail in producing a single iota of investment, but there are even visible cuts within these segments of the narrative. The whole contrivance that this project relies upon comes across as a miserable struggle to sculpt this narrative into a feature project, but the material barely warrants a short film. Maybe this could have been a semi-compelling VR installation, but even that feels like a stretch.