Nick (Kane Picoy) and Charlie (Jason Cairns) have been best friends since childhood, and as with most friendships that begin in early youth, it grows weaker under the strain of personal growth. Charlie has evolved in one direction, Nick in another. This progression takes a particularly harsh and abrupt toll on the pair, since Charlie has spent the last few years in prison. In One, with a title that's a bit too preciously ironic for its own good, director Tony Barbieri makes his feature debut with a subdued, unadorned story of two men going separate ways. The fact that they each end up at virtually the same sorry destination makes for a bit of nihilism that's neither satisfying nor entirely explicable.
But Barbieri, who also co-wrote the film along with Cairns, treats his characters with a sincerity that's refreshingly straightforward. Shooting with an almost entirely static camera, Barbieri permits the characters to live and breathe in an effective approximation of what feels like real time and space, an allowance that delivers to the audience a closer, more involving view of the developing and dissolving relationships. It's an effective storytelling strategy when your characters are as uncomplicated as the ones here.
Tony is an ex-minor-league baseball player full of talent and promise, whose own headstrong stupidity prevented him from getting his proper shot. He still lives with his parents and seems content, almost, with the money and fulfillment brought by his job as a garbageman. Charlie, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the prison stint, is much more together at this point in his life, seeking to go back to school and looking for a more enriching job than the sanitation grind given to him by Tony. While Barbieri and Cairns do a nice job of revealing information slowly and naturally, their screenplay also telegraphs the fates of both characters from very early on, a decision that sucks out a great deal of potential suspense and drama. The telegraphing doesn't quite work as dramatic inevitability either, since, at least in Charlie's case, his fate comes from a source well outside of his control. But perhaps what is most curious about One is that the least interesting relationship in the film is the one at the forefront. That is to some extent a by-product of the story being told-these guys are in fact drifting apart, with little of interest to say to each other. But it doesn't excuse or fill the hole at the center. One does better on the fringes. Tony's relationship to his exasperated father and Charlie's burgeoning romance with a tentative social worker unfold in ways that are more involving and urgent than the rambling to and fro between Tony and Charlie.