Crave is one of those cinematic character studies that maintains a constant up-close proximity to its main subject, reflecting his yearning, frustration, and self-acknowledged inadequacies with stinging clarity. Portrayed with great skill by Josh Lawson, Aiden is a solitary freelance photographer who most often finds work shooting grisly crime scenes. As he spends his days and nights traveling through Detroit’s seamier areas, he becomes increasingly bitter and angry about the sickening flood of crime and death he witnesses on a regular basis. He frequently supplies himself with sad little hits of relief and pleasure from his overactive imagination: exaggerated fantasies of gruesome revenge and sexual rewards that repeatedly backfire on Aiden once he is forced to return once more to the pathetic reality of his own passivity and cowardice. His inner storm of loathing and violence growing by the day, he desperately seeks advice and peace of mind from the closest thing to a friend he has, Ron Perlman’s weary, wise veteran cop Pete. Things begin to look up for Aiden after a heat-of-the-moment fling with his attractive younger neighbor Virginia (Emma Lung) slowly gives way to the promise of a meaningful relationship, though the new connection only leads to a new crop of complications and disasters as he finds it more and more difficult to keep his simmering emotions and poorly executed vigilante schemes in check.
As one might guess from the above description, the similarities between this film and Taxi Driver were certainly not lost on co-writer and director Charles de Lauzirika, Crave being his feature film debut. Indeed, this is what might have resulted if the Scorsese classic were fused with John Schlesinger’s own cautionary ode to daydreamers, Billy Liar. While the fantasy sequences add several welcome doses of outrageous humor, Aiden’s navigation through his day-to-day life allow for some particularly fine instances of nuanced acting, writing, and character development. In the scenes devoted to Aiden’s uneasy relationship with Virginia, the film noticeably switches gears into a slower, more naturalistic mode, the compelling dynamic between Lawson and Lung mainly built upon his child-like eagerness to establish something lasting with her – which he too often derails with his less commendable qualities. His awkwardness, his immaturity, the embarrassing outbursts he can’t keep to himself, his doomed efforts to apologize to her – this cringe-inducing string of screw-ups illustrate Aiden’s ongoing battle with his own worst traits as he sabotages his personal life in a fascinating, terrible spectacle worthy of comparison to a slow-motion, looped playback of Hindenburg disaster footage.
Aiden’s character will be the decisive factor in many viewers’ overall feelings about Crave. True to what de Lauzirika, his co-writer Robert Lawton, and Lawson set out to accomplish, Aiden is indeed more relatable and, in some instances, likeable than De Niro’s Travis Bickle. However, like Bickle, Aiden envisions himself as a virtuous hero without quite realizing just how despicable he himself becomes, made especially clear in a weaselly blackmail threat and a nightmare-come-to-life scenario that makes up most of the final act. “I’m not a bad guy,” he declares to Ravi, (Edward Furlong), Virginia’s skuzzy ex and the Sport to Aiden’s Travis, though it sounds as if he is trying to convince himself more than anyone else with that flimsy statement. Additionally, as the idyllic daydreams persist strong and clear throughout the film, they only further clarify the self-interest Aiden firmly and shamelessly holds onto – he may iterate his pained desire to make a difference and act in the name of justice and right, but he always makes sure he is the chief benefactor within his zany delusions, thus blowing any claims of sincerity or selflessness he dares to make in reality. That, combined with the unshakable sense that Aiden doesn’t quite grow beyond nor properly pay for his moral deficiencies by the time the conclusion rolls around, somewhat taints the viewing experience Crave delivers, which otherwise proves to be fairly solid due to its smooth craftsmanship and engaging narrative flow. While the filmmakers were brave in their choice to hang the whole project upon a protagonist with generous amounts of appealing and despicable qualities alike, for some he will likely bear too many of the latter to properly warrant a full pass.