Review: Sweet Virginia

Sweet Virginia
7 10

PLOT: A small-town motel owner (Jon Bernthal) crosses paths with a crazed hitman (Christopher Abbott) hooked up in a scheme with a local girl (Imogen Poots).

REVIEW: SWEET VIRGINIA is Canadian director Jamie M. Dagg’s second neo-noir, a follow-up to the acclaimed RIVER, which transposed the classic “wrong man” scenario to an exotic locale, Vietnam. SWEET VIRGINIA likewise opts for a classic formula, that of the brutal killer sweeping into the life of an otherwise milquetoast man, and forcing him into a life-or-death scenario.

A two-hander, written by Benjamin and Paul China, the plot, where a hit-man breezes into town to to kill the husband of a young woman but sticks around long-enough to spark up an acquaintance with a down-and-out motel manager, isn’t unlike something out of a classic RKO programmer from the forties. Like those films, it’s an efficient thriller, doing its business in ninety minutes and not overstaying its welcome.

Jon Bernthal is cast against type as a former rodeo champ that now has his mobility semi-impaired by a brain injury. He’s not the tough guy you might expect, with Bernthal even suffering a violent beating at a moment where Dagg seems almost about to give him a crowning moment of vengeance. It doesn’t come so easy here. Bernthal is great, playing him with a lot of uncharacteristic affability. You get why Christopher Abbott, as the live-wire hit-man, takes a bit of a shine to him.

Abbott, whose performance in JAMES WHITE is among the best of the decade, is well cast as the traveling killer. At one moment, he seems to almost have a crush on Poots’s unhappy young wife, and then the next he sticks a gun in her face demanding she pay him for services rendered. There’s a volcanic rage simmering beneath him, but also empathy, with him seeming to build up a genuine regard for Bernthal, a working class kind-of-guy he knows is just trying to do right.

The leads are supported by Poots, as the not-so-merry widow who finds out her husband hasn’t left her a cent, and Rosemarie DeWitt, another woman widowed by Abbott, who’s been carrying on with Bernthal for years and feels guilty that her husband’s death has left open the possibility of a life with Bernthal. They make the film’s two quasi-couples - one bad, one innocent.

Through it all, Dagg avoids falling into the indie crime movie trap with too overly stylized dialogue. This isn’t a Tarantino or Coen Brothers clone, and the dialogue is naturalistic (as is the atmospheric lensing by Jessica Lee Gagné). There’s little-to-no humor, but lots of fine character moments - adding up to a good little indie thriller.

Source: JoBlo.com



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