The two twits at the center of Craig Zobel
's Great World of Sound don't buy into the thievery of the music industry, but they are more than happy to be the tiny sprockets that help the machine rumble. One of them is a white weenie named Martin (Pat Healy
) who has never had ambition outside of what his girlfriends do. His partner is Clarence (Kene Holliday
), a big huff of a man who walks into a room and sells himself as if he were 50 bucks a pound on the open market. They report to a second-rate confidence man (John Baker
) who sends them on the road to sign salt-of-the-earth musicians in the southern states.
The musicians enter a small hotel room and play for Martin and Clarence and then, after being told how they are endangering culture by keeping their talents hidden away, are asked to fork over thirty percent of the recording cost or whatever they can spare really. Clarence has a knack for selling the American dream: the idea of a huge payoff from doing very little. Martin has the sincerity of a true music fan, pouring his heart out when he actually believes in an artist. As a team, they are lethally charming and rarely lose the talent's confidence. Article continues below
An old friend of junior auteur David Gordon Green (who serves as producer here), Zobel put ads in local papers to get real amateur musicians in the rooms, ostensibly going the same route as the characters in the film. The result is a wholly authentic feel of low-grade excitement from these encounters; nervy enthrallment without the barrier of performance. For Clarence, this becomes an engaging aspect of his job: being able to match their excitement and then ease them into the monetary "reality." But for Martin, it's an act of erosion both of his belief in music and in his confidence in humanity.
Martin's belief in music gets tested repeatedly but it's only when he meets the luminous Gloria (Tricia Paoluccio
), who croons Joanna Newsom's showstopping "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie" that he finds himself no longer able to do the work. Healy's tender performance plays nicely off of Holliday, who I am positive didn't have to do a lot of acting to fill in Clarence. Martin and Clarence's bond slowly evolves into that everlasting artistic dichotomy: ingenuity vs. profit. Clarence needs a job and is well aware of the con he is implicit in, but Martin hasn't a clue until the last trip in which they encounter Gloria, who almost ends up in bed with Martin.
Great World of Sound reminds one of those great indie charmers that were the basis of the 1990s indie movement. Zobel's designs on friend and producer Green are felt in the scrappy detailing of the South, but there are also hints of Altman and Soderbergh felt in both the crafty screenplay and the work with the actors. Martin's return from his devastating adventures on the road to his soulful girlfriend Pam comes on like one of the great redemptive moments in cinema this year, sitting down to paint knick-knacks as she goes to get them some tea. Zobel's smart enough to know that the con won't end, but he also knows that people won't stand it forever, and that gives his film character.