Review: Don McKay, starring Thomas Haden Church

Don McKay, starring Thomas Haden Church
5 10

PLOT: Twenty-five years after abandoning his hometown, Don McKay (Thomas Haden Church) gets a letter from his ex-girlfriend Sonny (Elisabeth Shue) saying that she is dying and wants him to come see her. When Don returns home, Sonny doesn't seem quite like he remembers her and everything seems a little bit off.

REVIEW:I knew absolutely nothing about DON McKAY when I sat down to watch it, and I think that's probably for the best. If I had known what was in store for me in terms of story and tone (not to mention the abstract acting styles), I might have judged it differently right off the bat. Being completely in the dark enabled me to let this film's absurd and infectious attitude gradually engage me. There are some definite bumps along the way, but it's fun to watch a film noir that parodies itself while embracing its own cliches and ridiculous twists.

Don McKay, like many film noir protagonists, is something of a dim bulb. Not stupid really, but an emotionally stunted man who allows bad things to happen to and around him with a sort of passiveness. Guys like him seem destined to wind up in trouble, if only because they hardly have anything to lose by putting themselves in the middle of these complex webs of sex and deceit. When McKay gets a letter out of the blue from his high-school sweetheart and rushes to meet her, he immediately falls into an increasingly bizarre mystery, one which he never gets too paranoid about. But that's because Don has his own secrets, and when they bubble up to the surface, we understand that there's more to him than just a sad face.

To rundown the exact plot of the film would be cheating you of its surprises. I'll just say that when Don meets up with Sonny (played with a certain loopy sensuality by Elisabeth Shue), she instantly clings to him and wants to rekindle their love affair. This seems to be a problem for her stern house nurse (Melissa Leo) and, even more so, her protective doctor (James Rebhorn) who certainly appears to have more than just a professional interest in Sonny. These characters all behave in a very odd manner around Don, and, because we're watching it through his eyes, it becomes evident that all is not what it seems. Of course, violence and betrayal aren't far around the corner...

When a movie is so obviously attempting to create a specific tone, it can end up being forced and fall flat. Initially, it's obvious that DON McKAY strives to achieve a Coen Brothers-esque atmosphere of quirky dark comedy amid seriously disturbing situations - a dangerous move since the Coens do it so effortlessly. But DON McKAY gradually builds an identity of its own. You're never quite sure if you're watching a comedy, a send-up, a thriller, or a sly amalgamation of the three. Something seems so wildly amiss in every scene that even the characters sometimes appear confused But there's good reason for this, and when we eventually learn what the big mystery is, it's fun to remember past scenes with this newfound knowledge. Suffice it to say, these people had good reason for acting so bizarrely, and it's an enjoyable revelation tacked onto a seriously kooky movie.

The acting is quite fine all around. Church, who is usually an exuberant personality, dials it down more than a few notches, creating a sympathetic and subtle character, who is more than a little oddball himself. Elisabeth Shue's Sonny is strange and erotic and perhaps out of her mind, and Shue nails it. Melissa Leo's intense nurse Marie, all withering glares and sinister smiles, is a lot of fun; like someone out of a gothic horror movie from the 50s. Director Jake Goldberger wisely casts a few reliable character actors - Pruitt Taylor Vince, M. Emmet Walsh, Keith David and James Rebhorn - in crucial roles; they all bring their own nuances and peculiarities... For fans of strong actors doing weird work, you can't go wrong with DON McKAY.


Extra Tidbit: DON McKAY comes out APRIL 2nd.



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