Review: Mean Dreams

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

PLOT: Jonas (Josh Wiggins), a sheltered teen living on his folks’ ranch in the Great Lakes region, falls for his new neighbor, Casey (Sophie Nélisse), whose father, Wayne (Bill Paxton), is the new deputy sheriff of his small town. Upon learning that Wayne is a dirty cop collecting drug money, Jonas steals his stash and takes it on the lam with Casey, but neither is aware of just how far Wayne will go to recover his ill-gotten gains.

REVIEW: It’s impossible to watch MEAN DREAMS through the same eyes as the audience that caught it back when it premiered this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival would have. Had I seen it there, I would have considered it a decent Canadian-made thriller, not necessarily worthy of going too far out of your way to watch. But, with star Bill Paxton having passed away, MEAN DREAMS stands as one of his last completed films, making it a strangely vital piece of his filmography, and a tribute to a master craftsman who always put it all right up there on the screen.

Usually when American actors take a trip up north for a Canadian movie it’s to collect a quick paycheck. Not so with Paxton, who turns his generic bad guy into a three-dimensional character that can’t help but steal the spotlight from his younger co-stars, both of whom seem a little too doe-eyed for what should be a tough, rural thriller.

Evocatively shot in Northern Ontario, MEAN DREAMS suffers from a lot of the things that mar English-Canadian films, with the major one being that the setting is ambiguously American, a frustrating thing as the film loses any sense of national flavor it might otherwise have had. Still, production values are high, with second-time director Nathan Morlando trying hard to find his inner Terrence Malick. That means lots of gorgeous, contemplative shots of nature and a “young folks on the run” story right out of BADLANDS, although Wiggins and Nélisse area little too goody-too-shoes to give the film the sense of danger it needs.

bill paxton sophie nelisse mean dreams

Luckily, Paxton has this vibe in spades, with his corrupt cop thoroughly despicable in that classic way Paxton had of playing weasels. While he’s maybe too clear-cut a bad guy to make the film really interesting, Paxton and the filmmakers do occasionally squeeze-in some intriguing bits, such as a slightly redemptive moment towards the end which is among the best in the film – even if it’s a throwaway. Leading Canadian thesp Colm Feore also contributes a nice turn as Paxton’s “just as dirty” boss, with some of the better scenes involving the two trying to outfox each other in the third act.

In the end, MEAN DREAMS is less BADLANDS, more COP CAR (albeit a watered-down version) but not bad for what it is. It’s the type of movie often used to fill out festival programs at places like TIFF, and while more spunk and some sense of Canadian identity would have made MEAN DREAMS a far more interesting yarn, Paxton’s performance makes it well-worth watching. After all, it’s the last time we’ll ever be able to talk about “the new Bill Paxton movie.” Too bad.

bill paxton mean dreams poster

Mean Dreams



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.