Updated with comment from Crackle: For a few months now, plenty of buzz has been circulating about the Crackle-produced The Bannen Way, a gritty noir web series created by Mark Gantt and Jesse Warren that was set to launch on Jan. 6 (a date proudly plastered on the official site). That’s a pretty easy date to remember — the first week in January. So color me surprised when today I got a tip that the first three episodes of the series were live on Sony’s web video portal.
Screw-up at Sony HQ — or a sneaky effort to ensure that the show is eligible for the 2nd annual Streamy Awards (which require that at least three episodes be released during the previous calendar year)? Well, we’re still waiting on comment from Crackle, so there’s no official answer yet. In the meantime, though, let’s watch some web video! Update: A representative from Crackle confirmed via email this afternoon that making Bannen Way eligible for Streamys consideration was a factor in the decision to release the show early.
First things first: Bannen Way is compellingly made and well-written, with a knack for drawing the viewer into its world of cards, sex, addiction, and high-stakes larceny. Neal Bannen (Gantt), an inveterate gambler and crook, is broke and in debt to the wrong people — from the very beginning, he admits, he’s “f—ed” — and while he’s not necessarily the most likable hero (something about his consummate smugness makes it hard for him to generate much empathy), his grandfather’s guidelines for life — the titular “Way” — make for a nice framing device.
According to the creators, who spoke at a recent Tubefilter meetup, the shooting schedule was insanely tight, but the lack of time doesn’t show. It’s a tightly paced ride, and the acting — especially Michael Ironside (in his second web video project this year) as a hard-edged police chief with a vested interest in Neal’s well-being — is uniformly professional and polished.
However, stylistically, Warren and Gantt owe Guy Ritchie at least a nice thank you; Bannen Way‘s eclectic mix of gangsters, scoundrels and attractive ladies (some of whom are even introduced with distinctive freeze-frame title cards) seem pulled directly from an American remake of Snatch. The creators have brought some individual flair to the proceedings, and the level of production is impressive for web content, but if you’ve seen more than one gangster film in the last two decades, you won’t be overwhelmed by The Bannen Way‘s originality, and you might even grow bored at times of how derivative certain elements are. For example, in case you were wondering, the guys seem to have a thing for large-breasted brunettes, as Neal flirts or has sex with at least three different ones in the first three episodes. Blondes and redheads need not apply.
Bannen Way, much like Angel of Death (Crackle’s big action smash from last year) was filmed essentially as an independent feature, and after premiering online will eventually be released on DVD as a full-length film. It’s a smart way for Sony to get its money back, but losing the novelty of being a web series will mean that Bannen Way will be just another crime caper on the shelves at Blockbuster — and not the most novel or inventive of its genre.