The Son of No One makes me feel like a teacher whose student has very obviously plagiarized their final paper of the semester. You can pick out some original thought or adept phrases, but mostly, the only thing you see is their ability to regurgitate a second-rate product. In this case, the student is writer/director Dito Monteil, and his movie seems like something thrown together last minute so he could turn something in on time. It's a tough world these days for police crime dramas since the market is flooded with them, and this movie fails to separate itself from the pack.
It's not for lack of trying, of course. Jonathan "Milk" White (Channing Tatum) is a cop with a family, trying to do good in the world. That's pretty unremarkable, but we learn that as a child, he lived in the housing projects and found himself behind two murders. They weren't accidents in the technical sense, but they make sense to the folks watching from the sidelines. His dead father's partner Detective Charles Stanford (Al Pacino) feels a sense of duty to protect little Milk, and closed the cases without looking back. Only now, someone is threatening to expose Milk and everyone at his 118th precinct through letters sent to a local newspaper.
This should be an interesting film, full of moral conflict like something from a Dennis Lehane novel. The only problem is, it's almost completely nonsensical at every turn, making me throw my hands up so many times I finally just focused on my Whoppers. For context, Monteil was the force behind Tatum's other head-scratching movie Fighting, which has the same kind of non-logic logic. It works slightly better when you're distracted by people knocking the crap out of each other--this tried to set a more thoughtful tone and failed miserably.
It's hard to understand any character's motivations or goals. (Spoilers follow) What's the significance of Milk's transfer to his father's old 118 precinct? He keeps bringing it up but it isn't necessary to the story. Why does Captain Marion Mathers (Ray Liotta) send Milk and his partner to the newspaper that's printing all the letters? One would assume it would be to scare the editor, but nah, that doesn't happen. In a messy red herring, phone calls to Milk's wife (played with a flat, almost invisible quality by Katie Holmes) are revealed to be coming from someone close to the officers. But the caller is not the person actually sending the letters, nor is he clear about what action he wants Milk to take--he seems more like he just enjoys calling people without saying who it is. And in the end, no one seems to learn anything except that you can get off scot-free if someone decides to close a homicide case. No moral grey areas to be discussed here, just some recycled cop jargon. Even the title makes no sense--Milk is definitely the son of someone, otherwise he'd be on the other side of those bars.