cover image City of Blows

City of Blows

Tim Blake Nelson. Unnamed, $30 (480p) ISBN 978-1-951213-65-7

Actor, filmmaker, and playwright Nelson debuts with a vivid if heavy-handed character study of men in the film industry. Controlling and abrasive producer Jacob Rosenthal is determined to produce an adaptation of a controversial novel about race. He enlists as his director David Levit, a classically trained actor gunning for his directorial break. Threatening to stymie the project by leveraging David’s contractual obligations is Brad Shlansky, a cutthroat but financially desperate producer represented by childhood friend Paul Aiello, an agent with louche proclivities that drive the novel’s second central conflict: Paul’s drugging and rape of two actresses he represents, and the unraveling that follows. But Nelson is slow to arrive here, instead spending ample time on the formative experiences of the other primary players. There’s Jacob’s strained relationship with his father, an emotionally distant Marine; David’s childhood encounters with antisemitism in West Virginia and class prejudice in college; and the deaths of Brad’s parents in his adolescence. The character work up to this point is well done, but Paul’s formative years with his alcoholic, abusive father come far too late to complicate the reader’s view of him. Though Nelson’s critique of Hollywood’s toxic culture is nearly sunk by circuitous storytelling, there’s more than enough here for a movie. Agent: Bryd Leavell, UTA. (Feb.)