Mope is based on the true story of Stephen Clancy Hill, an adult film actor responsible for a bizarre murder inside a porn studio. It was all over the news in 2010, thanks to its inherently lurid nature. Making a movie on that subject was never going to be easy. The details are grisly and the setting is, obviously, distasteful to many people. Credit goes to director Lucas Heyne for making a thoughtful, intense picture about how an unstable person can spiral downward to shocking depths. Mope is extremely uncomfortable to watch, yet also thoroughly riveting.
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett plays Steve Driver – Hill's stage name -- a “mope” on porno sets. A mope is someone willing to do the most degrading acts. He befriends another mope, Tom Dong (Kelly Sry), after shooting a Bukakke scene together. (If you don't know what that is, you'll have to Google it, because I ain't describing it.) Both men dream of becoming stars, and they see an opportunity with Eric Long (Brian Huskey), the owner of a no-frills porn house that specializes in fetish videos. Of course, they have to keep doing mope work at first, which includes getting literally kicked in the nuts, along with the usual sexual activity.
Neither are particularly good actors, even by porn's low standards. Nevertheless, Steve and Tom bill themselves as “the Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan of porn.” They want more, though, and try to get it by pitching themselves to a high-end sleaze merchant, Rocket (David Arquette). When that doesn't go as planned, they consider setting up shop for themselves. That doesn't really work either. Tom comes to accept that mope work might be all he's cut out for. Steve, on the other hand, grows increasingly desperate for career advancement.
Things happen and eventually...well, if you know the story, you're aware of what takes place. If not, buckle up.
Mope is unrated, but undeniably NC-17 in terms of content. The pornographic dialogue often stuns the ears, and the frank depiction of activity in XXX-rated features is eye-opening for those of us who do not watch such material. Heyne gets away with it because he completely deglamorizes sex work. The intent here is not to titillate but to be authentic. There is a matter-of-factness to the film's portrayal of the porn world. The characters treat what they do as a job, even if it does sometimes offer uncommon pleasures. If the movie ever treated the milieu with a wink, or took a lascivious approach to it, everything would fall apart. Instead, we are plunged into a realistic – and sometimes darkly funny – environment that feels true because it needs to for the story to make sense.
Explicit content may turn off some viewers, but I think Mope is a serious film that genuinely wants to explore Hill's story. The screenplay by Heyne and Zack Newkirk includes a number of vital scenes that others wouldn't have thought to include. For example, there's a profoundly sad sequence in which Steve and Tom have dinner with Steve's parents. They're appalled by his line of work, but he keeps trying to impress them until his father finally blows up. You feel bad for everyone – for Steve because he's so desperate for approval, for the parents because they see how off-track their son has gotten, and for Tom because he's caught in the middle of it. Moments like this find the humanity in the characters, despite the sordid backdrop of the plot.
As Steve, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is a powerhouse. He mines the depths of this character, conveying how mental health issues, unearned confidence, and misplaced drive all combine into a disastrous cocktail. The actor creates good chemistry with Kelly Sry. Watching how their friendship grows, then grows strained, is compelling. Also noteworthy is Brian Huskey, one of those character actors you've seen in a million things but probably never knew his name. Although frequently cast in comedies, he's superb in a dramatic role, making Eric a savvy businessman who just happens to enjoy working in a field that lets him engage in sexual activity.
Mope is not an easy watch, yet it was clearly made with the intent to examine the psychology behind such a bizarre, twisted event. We hear stories like that on the news and wonder what could possibly have led to them. This movie tries to answer that question, and where it goes leaves you rattled.
out of four
Mope is unrated, but contains extremely graphic language, sexuality/nudity, and bloody violence. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.