Sweet Virgina (2017)

Director: Jamie M. Dagg
Starring: Jon Bernthal, Christopher Abbott, Imogen Poots, Rosemarie DeWitt, Odessa Young, Jared Abrahamson .USA/Canada 1h 35m,

For the most part this dark neo-noir thriller takes two distinctive strong men and the troubles that surround them, highlights their strengths and weaknesses, then crash them together in the mist of a brutal cash for murder in a small American town and watches the fireworks blow them apart in a spectacular and emotive fashion.

A puzzling stranger sends bloody shock waves through a close knit community, after committing three brutal cold blooded murders. In the wake of the devastation of the remote and bleak Alaskan town, a tightly wound drifter Elwood (Abbott) checks into a motel run by Sam (Bernthal) a former Rodeo star, having retired he is making ends meet with this new venture to motel keeping but he’s a deeply troubled soul.

The two men strike up an awkward friendship bound together as two outsiders, a new wave of violence ensues, but this time a new anger rises and Sam who has some inner demons that need exercising and now two imposing and troubled men have something to get off their chest.

It’s hard to really box this film into one or two categories, it transcends Drama and Horror it also feels like a Film Noir/Westerrn, it certainly does pick the best of all these genres and pieces together some blinding Choen-esque cinema . The bleak landscape with the constant rain and pulsing classical eerie soundtrack really edges the downtrodden feel that both men are harboring. Together they seem to draw the most extreme nature from each other, a yin and yang of mid life crisis and spiritual recovery, or maybe it’s a metaphor that some people are tuned in to see only the good in others?

Highlighting the fact that Bernthhal is really capable in a leading role, he handles his brooding character well, offering in a gritty texture to the already dark movie the injured Rodeo star doesn’t demand attention for his former glory; he’s more humble, dealing with his physical limitations and heartache. While this brilliant (un)hero slowly pushes himself into being a better man, there’s a lot to relate to, his humble nature and self doubt makes him human. He’s met halfway by a very unusual and dangerous man, Elwood. He’s like a chaotic ball of all the worse mental conditions rolled into one sly character who kills without hesitation or emotion, and yet they seem to need each other. The running joke is that while Sam runs a set of rooms, there’s one particular problem tenant in room 128, whom he can’t confront, and each time it comes to a crux it seems to be the marker for him turning into a real tough guy.. But does he ever achieve this milestone or forever be held back by the side effects of his Rodeo accident.

For the most part with the themes of Rodeo riding and hired gunman, it feels like a “man” movie but behind each man is a woman, of some sorts, they don’t play huge part in Dagg’s hardwired thriller I don’t think it’s intentional, Sam has an attentive daughter Maggie (Young) who helps run the motel and is often trying to get her dad to toughen up, while Elwood has mysterious phone calls with his mother but I really wonder if he’s talking to anyone at all? It feels like a bit of Norman Bates is running through his character at times. The most pivotal woman is Lila (Poots), the woman who sparked all these events off through pure greed but there’s a sharp downside to her blood soaked plan and only one chance of redemption.

For a second movie there’s a lot going on, possibly too much at times, but it’s all handled with a cultured eye and sensible head as the plot of cleverly revealed while amping up the fear and violence bit by bit in between some solid well acted drama. There really aren’t too many let downs in Sweet Virginia from the muted darkly lit pallet, highlight the mundane life in a quiet town, through meals in bare linear diners, and deadly encounters on the open roads shrouded by lush hills and the haunting rousing score, it’s a shame there isn’t more of it.

Rating: 8/10

R: One Single Shot (2013), Steel Country (2018)
L: 50 States 50 Films
5S: Jon Bernthal, Christopher Abbott, Imogen Poots,
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