Live Bait (1997)

August 7, 1997

The life of an independent filmmaker is a strange one. Just ask writer-director Bruce Sweeney. His film debut Live Bait was literally lost, found again, and then to the astonishment of Canadian filmgoers at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, rose from the depths to extricate the Best Canadian film award from the hands of some stiff competition. With a final budget of a minuscule $85,000 and a completion time of nearly five years, Live Bait’s triumph could very well be the Canadian film industry’s Cinderella story of last year. The clamour? It’s well deserved.

Written in stretches from the summer of 1992 through to the spring of ‘93, Live Bait is a semi-autobiographical story following the frustrations of a 23-year-old guy and his attempts to sate his unfulfilled goatishness. Told in a surprisingly subtle fashion, with an outstanding performance by lead actor Tom Scholte as Trevor, Live Bait’s seemingly innocuous premise belies its warm, humanistic tone and adept intelligence. This may be the story of a guy, his libido, and the women that drive him crazy, but Porky’’s it’s not.

Traversing shaky emotional territory with careful, even steps, Live Bait communicates the agony of being lustful, alone and confused without resorting to hamfisted melodrama. Tom Scholte’s face has a dog-eyed yearning that speaks volumes in a simple look. In fact, Sweeney understands the incredible power a glance contains, and uses it sparingly and with great impact. Trevor attracts women easily, but is thwarted by his shyness and his inability to form any sense of connection to them. In his words, he’s “erectionally challenged”, and is left looking woeful and bewildered by his half-baked encounters with the women drawn to him.

It isn’t until Trevor meets Charlotte (Micki Maunsell), a sixtysomething artist with a quick wit and twinkling smile, that Trevor finds what could lead to something. It’s here that Live Bait shines. By portraying their slow courtship with a mature, even balance that emanates honesty and a jocular intelligence, Sweeney proves that he not only understands his characters, but cares what happens to them. This may be the film’s biggest strength: it comes from a true place, free of pretension.

After the film lab lost eight minutes of crucial footage, it seemed as if Bruce Sweeney would never get his film to its final destination on our movie screens. After enduring long, angry phone calls to the lab, Sweeney finally found the missing footage in a box containing the lab’s fake Christmas tree. In the independent filmmaker’s world, it’s business as usual, as crises such as these are commonplace. Thankfully, Live Bait is not commonplace - it’s a charismatic, well thought out film that commands our attention and sates our desire for the magic of good cinematic storytelling. All things told, an excellent debut from a promising new talent.

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