SWEET VIRGINIA, US/Canada, 2017. Starring Jon Bernthal, Christopher Abbott, Imogen Poots, Rosemarie DeWitt, Odessa Young. Directed by James M. Dagg. 92 minutes. Rated MA (Strong sex scenes and coarse language).
Sweet is not exactly the word that comes to mind throughout this film. The title, in fact, refers to a motel in a remote Alaskan town (although the film takes full advantage of beautiful mountain scenery, photographed in the town of Hope, Canada). And, as regards Virginia, the central character plays an old rodeo rider, now injured and retired to Alaska, who had some success, as we see in flashbacks, in Roanoke, Virginia.
This is a film about moral decline in a small American town. It is something in the vein of the popular film noir of the 1940s, much of the action taking place in dark surroundings.
The film opens quite strikingly with a man arriving at a diner to join his two friends and a card game. Normal enough, phone calls to wives, everything quiet. A stranger then arrives, even though the diner is closed, and demands a meal. He identifies the manager of the diner. He does go out, but returns with deadly results.
As the film proceeds, we see his connection to quite a number of other people in the town. There are secrets and lies, there are fidelities and infidelities, there is ordinariness, there is malice, there is love and there is hate.
The rodeo rider, Sam, played by Jon Bernthal, now manages a motel where the stranger is staying and begins a friendship with him. This is in contrast with another resident of the motel subject of complaint about noise who is a violent man and bashes Sam.
It emerges that the stranger, Elwood (Christopher Abbott in a truly sinister role, psychopathic, heartless, yet sentimental in phoning his mother) is a hitman employed for the initial violence in the film. We are also introduced to two of the wives of the men dead in the diner, Imogen Poots as a young woman in an unhappy marriage, Rosemarie de Witt also in an unhappy but longer marriage, in a relationship with Sam.
It will emerge that Sam is to be the hero of the film even though he limps with his bad leg, is getting older, loses out in fights. But, he is sincere in his relationship with the widow, which comes to a head when masked robbers invade her home.
There are sympathetic characters at the motel, the older manager and a young woman for whom Sam is the father-figure, (Australian Odessa Young).
While some audiences may find the film more than a touch dour and prefer not to enter into this kind of moral decline, those who want an interesting drama with well-delineated characters, will find it interesting and different in its way.
Icon Released November 30th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.