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Strays - Review

Vin Diesel's Strays

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

IT SEEMS a while ago now but Vin Diesel first made a name for himself as a character actor in films such as Saving Private Ryan and The Boiler Room.

The launchpad for that success was Strays, a film he wrote, starred in and directed in 1997, and which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance before playing to widespread acclaim.

The film is a personal coming-of-age tale that takes an uncompromising look at Diesel’s own experiences growing up in New York City and will probably appeal most to fans of movies such as A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints and A Bronx Tale. In truth, there’s plenty to admire.

Rick (Diesel) is a young drug dealer and ‘stray’ (or person who grew up without the presence of a father in his home), who has begun to grow frustrated of the repetitious grind of one-night stands and aimless hustling with his friends.

When he meets Heather (Suzanna Lanza), the girl next door, Rick sees an opportunity to grow up but his volatile aggression and loyalty to his friends threatens to extinguish their relationship before it’s even got going.

Diesel created Strays following the success of his short film Multi-Facial (which brought him to Steven Spielberg’s attention) and clearly had plenty to say about his experiences of growing up in New York.

As such, the film feels gritty and looks authentic, making good use of its locations and the male bonds that exist between Rick and his friends.

The film works best, however, when developing the relationship between Rick and Heather as it’s during these moments that Diesel gets to display some fine acting skills as he wrestles with his own demons and the newfound desire to better himself.

Several of their conversations are quite poignant, especially when Rick opens up and reveals more about his relationship with his mother. They come in stark contrast to the male bravado exhibited between him and his friends, some of which threatens to become tedious and which dominates a lot of the early proceedings.

Reservations aside, however, Strays remains both an assured directorial debut and a startling reminder of what Diesel is capable of as an actor of genuinely brooding intensity. It’s just a shame that his career has veered off the rails into lame action hero territory and it’s easy to see why the comparisons with Sylvester Stallone remain.

The DVD release of Strays by Revolver Entertainment marks the first time the film has been available in the UK and it’s certainly worth catching up with. It would be good to see Diesel returning to this kind of role and production again.

Read our interview with Vin Diesel

Certificate: 15
Running time: 99mins
UK DVD Release Date: May 19, 2008