PLOT: In a dusty, desolate American wasteland, a tight-lipped antihero must protect a young woman believed to be a harbinger of human salvation.
REVIEW: With five shorts under his belt, DUST OF WAR marks the feature debut of writer/director Andrew Kightlinger, who unfortunately may want to avoid the long form until he further sharpens his filmmaking acumen. or at least accrues more resources. Because here, working under an estimated million dollar budget, this so called "action" movie is largely bereft of anything warranting the term. Instead what we have is a languid one-note story that is far too serious for its own good, punctuated by ridiculous slow-mo shots and long spells of lead characters wandering through a barren land with little to do. If I had to make a comparison, I'd say the intent of the film would lay somewhere between VALHALLA RISING and THE BOOK OF ELI, but the execution of said intent is never even remotely satisfyingly realized. Absolutely, DUST OF WAR feels awkward and amateur in almost every aspect.
Under a soot-smeared exterior, we come to identify with Abel (yes, Abel)...a near-mute soldier who we learn lead a revolt against an alien invasion that has wiped out Earth. He broods, he sulks, he says all but 10 words. As the film opens, Abel is captured by a goon platoon headed by a Chizum, an oversized, bearded, falsetto-voiced heavy with a fake eye (color contact)...who throws Abel and a few others in a makeshift jail-cell. Among them are Tom, Gelman and Ellie...the latter of which, as the only woman, is tagged as being the savior of humanity. As the foursome escape the holding cell and make a run for the hills, it then becomes the ultimate mission to protect Ellie and make sure the human race doesn't become irreversibly extinct. Along the way, the crew happens upon Tony Todd and Doug Jones (both receive top billing despite being in the film for 15 minutes), who offer refuge until Chizum and his goons show up loaded for bear. What happens from there I suppose I won't spoil.
Before I continue with the bad, let's address what I did like about DUST OF WAR. I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Tom Dixie, played by longtime character actor Gary Graham. It's he who brings not only some much needed levity in a movie that is far too austere in tone, he also, just as the most seasoned actor, brings the most realism to his role. He feels like a real person, and in a movie like this, that's a hell of a compliment. For that matter, I also liked Bates Wilder, the guy who played Chizum. As a formidable bad guy, he uses his sweet smile and high-pitched voice in an oddly comedic yet equally menacing manner. He's given terrible lines of course, as most are, but somehow his presence was amusing throughout. But not as amusing as newcomer Jordan McFadden, who plays Ellie. Not that she's a better actor than the other two, because she's not, but in a grimy picture populated with filthy dudes, it was damn sure good to see a fine ass lass in the mix. Label me shallow, but hey, in a movie this inconsequential, one must mine any silver lining they can.
And yes, the film is inconsequential and thoroughly unconvincing. Its story is far too slight, playing more like an elongated situation broken up into three half-hour segments, with the interstitial glue nothing more than a wide montage of expansive terrain and land-roving. It's supposed to be this heavy "end of humanity" thriller, but the stakes are never raised high enough or put forth in a believable fashion. The dialog is stilted throughout, the FX are next to nil, and actually pretty laughable when present. Our antihero Abel says almost nothing the entire film, and the lack of action set-pieces or even interesting locations bog the look of the film down into complete monotony. I mean, if you want to watch a handful of B-movie actors trade ludicrous lines out in the desert for 90 minutes, by all means, give DUST OF WAR a chance. But I can't in good consciousness recommend this to anyone. I just can't.