In Dance With the One, a low-level drug slinger, Nate, is trusted with a huge stash. He locks it up in a safe place where no one will ever find it. But, of course, someone does. And if Nate wants to save his hide, he’d better track down the thief.
The setup is a classic film structure, used in everything from The Maltese Falcon to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Pulp Fiction. When done properly, the drug stash, briefcase, statuette, etc. sets the plot in motion, and the action tells us about the personalities and desires of the characters who inhabit the film.
“It’s not a Macguffin,” Dance With the One director Michael Dolan says about the drug stash. “But we get the velocity, we get the energy from the plot. But that’s not the heart of the movie.”
“You get people with the hook of the crime,” says Jon Marc Smith, who co-wrote the film with Smith Henderson. “Shakespeare can write MacBeth and explore all these philosophical ideas about murder and guilt and what not. But you have to have the murder. You have to have someone wanting to be king.”
At its core, Dance With the One is more of a family drama than crime caper. The whole reason that Nate is in the drug business in the first place is to support his family, which is coming apart. Nate and his younger brother are still reeling from the death of their mother, and Nate plans to use his illegal income to pay for a nice school for his brother. Their father, meanwhile, is in a constant alcohol-fueled oblivion after losing his wife. So to Nate, the missing drugs mean more than just big trouble with the boss. In reality, they represent his family’s future.
The film is the first production of the University of Texas Film Institute. It was shot in Austin with student cast and crew and had its premiere at SXSW. When I spoke with Smith and Dolan at the festival, I asked each of them which movies or television shows influenced their thinking for Dance With the One.
Dolan: At Close Range – “The influence of that film on it is it’s really about a father and his sons.”
Smith: The Sopranos or The Wire – “What we were always trying to do in terms of this movie is to take these genre elements – crime, drugs, theft – and combine them with a real family drama. … There’s these hard-core genre elements, but they’re just used in order to tell a story that’s about family.”
Dance With the One screens today at 4 at the Magnolia.