NPR Review of Artful Gambit

Artful Gambit

A smart short with promise for future, feature-length films.

Artful Gambit

Director: Sigurd Culhane (Bukowski: Roll the Dice (Short)

Screenplay: Culhane, Kristen Shilton

Cast: Steve Brian (Lishy Lou and Lucky Too), Kelly Pantaleoni (Tentacle 8)

Runtime: 15 min.

by John DeSando

“I killed my husband.”

Short films have the burden of poetry—completing the theme with dialogue and images that carry little baggage but pack resounding meaning in that minimalist pack. Such lyrical (dare I use the term for a thriller?)  power Artful Gambit offers. This Festival de Cannes entry is a seductive drama about revenge nurtured by jealousy and memory.

Catherine (Kelly Pantaleoni) confesses at an institution where she has been involuntarily admitted about murdering her husband (Nathan Sapsford) to a psychiatrist (Cooper Thornton) . Her sadistic glee is perplexing as is her willingness to share the details of the crime. But therein lies the charm of this drama: Who really knows why we do even the most heinous crimes? Do we endanger ourselves to enter into that fraught world from which there is rarely a return?

The clever (it is after all an “artful gambit”) Catherine has the cunning of a Poe character in charge of her destiny and anyone who dares listen to her (think The Cask of Amontillado). In fact, the real crime may not be the husband’s murder but anyone’s complicity in listening to this very personal story of revenge and manipulation.

Who’s to say poor Catherine may not strike again even though her angelic mien, charming Aussie accent, and slit wrists distract from her recurring obsession for control? Why does a smart avenger instill fear even in a removed audience? Shakespeare knew the power and allure of revenge as well as Poe:

“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” The Merchant of Venice.

Director Sigurd Culhane has done his job corralling a tight script (together with Kristen Shilton), accomplished actors (see above), sparely haunting music (Alexander Hoggard), nimble editing (William Sharp), just the right compositions and lighting with an 8 mm interlude and unobtrusive slo-mo thanks to Andrew Aiello and the rest of the crew.

In other words, I hope this ensemble returns for a full-length thriller because a powerful short is always too short.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.