#REVIEW: “SWEET VIRGINIA”
Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
Three friends sit down in a bar called Chums and are interrupted by a man wielding a revolver. This is not the set-up for a bizarre joke but rather than opening scene of Director Jamie M. Dagg’s Sweet Virginia. Rather than a tired investigation story, Sweet Virginia looks at the desperation behind affairs, murders, and simple greed in this remote Alaskan town.
The Punisher’s Jon Bernthal plays against type as Sam, a former rodeo champion who now runs a motel he inherited from his brother. He reluctantly befriends socially awkward motel guest Elwood (Christopher Abbott), not knowing he is the hitman responsible for the bar massacre. Elwood is waiting for Lila (Imogen Poots) to pay him for killing her husband and the two men who were unfortunate enough to be in the bar at the time including the husband of Sam’s girlfriend, Bernadette (Rosemary DeWitt). Lila, however, isn’t having much luck coming up with the payment because her husband appears to have left her penniless.
If the Script by Benjamin and Paul China seems somewhat convoluted rest assured the Ensemble Cast gamely delivers. The Script serves Dagg’s neo-noir atheistic well while still allowing the Cast to find themselves within the characters. Bernthal in particular seems to relish the role of reluctant host to his motel guests and self-conscious paramour to Bernadette. When called upon to be the hero, he stands at the ready hinting at a past darker than the constant rodeo flashbacks hint toward.
Dagg dances with foreshadowing throughout the Film with mixed results. Knocks on the bar’s door in the Movie’s opening sequence echo like the gunshots that are about to fill the otherwise quiet night. Likewise, the repeated panning and discussion of the Nazi-era shotgun above Sam’s check-in desk are bald announcements the firearm will be seen again later in the third act. While not subtle it does add intrigue as the audience waits to discover how all the pieces of the puzzle will eventually resolve themselves.
With British Columbia subbing-in for Alaska, Cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné’s lens draws the focus to the beautiful landscapes rather than the overwrought score. Simple trips through the town seem elevated through her lens as she gives the Director’s study of loneliness physical shape.
Not every movie that opens in December needs to be worthy of Oscar Bait™ season. For those who prefer depth over fluff, good performances and a twisted web of deceit mark Sweet Virginia as an interesting Film to see this weekend.
Elevation Pictures release Sweet Virginia on Friday, December 1, 2017.