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Hal MacDermot [Film Festival 10.05.09] movie review trailer thriller mystery noir



Year: 2009
Directors: Thomas Jane
Writers: Tab Murphy
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Hal MacDermot
Rating: 6.7 out of 10

[Editor's note: From coverage at the Long Beach Comic Con, we were also supposed to have a review for Give 'em Hell, Malone but the distributor yanked it at the last moment. Replace this sentence with me cursing them out.]

A film noir in 3D and Sony is releasing it straight to DVD in 2D? “Excuse me?” I hear you exclaim,”Are they out of their highly strung executive minds? What are they thinking?” More on this point anon, but now to the main feature. Thomas Jane’s directorial debut is definitely a must for fans of film noir, but I have to warn you that the plot’s not as strong as the visuals. It should stand up in 2D, the shadows will remain, but it can’t be as good as the 3D. Dark Country is a bit like a very long and wonderfully lit episode of the Twilight Zone. Stylistically it also reminded me of the desert surreal horror world of Dave Payne’s No Man’s Land: the Rise of the Reeker (2008). Wait, did I mention the cameo role by Ron Perlman as Sheriff?


The movie opens with a Vegas motel, Philip Marlowesque narration, period jazz music and a beautiful woman asleep on a mess of sheets. We learn that Dick (Thomas Jane) and Gina (Lauren German) just got married quick and dirty on whim and a few bottles of booze. Each knows nothing about the other’s past life. It’s night, and after a bite to eat in a diner, the happy couple jump into a beautiful early 60s classic car and head off across the desert to seek out a new beginning. They soon find them lost in the middle of the starry darkness, and instead of apple pie team work, they start bickering as they find out what the other is really like, e.g. she smokes, he doesn’t want kids. The barbed but still erotic dynamic between Jane and German is great. As is the scene with Lauren and the ice cube. The 3D definitely adds visual power to the car scenes, but really it’s the chemistry between Jane and German that supplies the go juice. Things take a turn for the worse as Dick almost runs over an already badly injured man with no face. The now not at all happy couple tries to take the stranger to a hospital, but leaving the desert is not as easy as entering. Added to that, the stranger seems to know a little more than he should about both of them...

Jane’s use of 3D is not just for effect, it helps reinforce the noir mood and ramps up the drama. The slow tracking sequence of the motel exterior, and move into the room, is spectacular. The 3D effect also gives good visual depth to the interior car scenes, and in the background, outside of the car, it’s all about the green screen desert, including nice shots of the starry desert sky. The only pure big CGI moment is a car crash towards the end, a 3D event itself, and I was so caught up in the story I had no problem with that at all. On an interesting technical note, Jane apprently shrank the film image to leave an "empty" border space at the top and bottom of the film frames, so when he wanted to really punch a 3D image, he could impose an image on that space, and so for example have a hammer appear to be smashing through the regular film frame, as you might see in a comic book. Jane calls this technique articulated matte.

After the movie there was a Q & A and Thomas Jane was asked how he found directing himself. Jane said that he’d been talking with Mel Gibson, and asked his advice on this. Gibson’s take was that in such a situation, it’s important for the director to make sure he keeps the camera on himself enough – the tendency being to shoot the other actors more. For my money, Jane did a good job of capturing his own performance and Lauren German, who was the only other developed character in the film. I would also like to mention that during the Q&A, Jane walked around barefoot with a stogie gripped between his teeth. I thought that was very appropriate for a Comic Convention.

The appeal and the weakness of this movie lie in the fact that it is really an extended noirish Twilight Zone episode, full of atmosphere and shadows. But as a full length movie, although it looked great, I would have liked less random driving around and more story plot points and development. For example at the story kick off, Dick meets a strange man who warns him ominously to take care of his new wife. Later it seems that Gina may know the guy, but we’re never really sure, and generally I felt there was too much mystery for mystery’s sake. Ron Perlman’s good in his role as sheriff, but the role itself is written out basically as a story mechanism called “cops up the pressure on Dick,” rather than as full personality. I’m not saying that any particular one point should change, that’s up to the writer/director, but overall the movie would benefit from more flesh. Jane took on an ambitious movie, and when he decided to throw in a deal of dark humor, he made his job more challenging. Horror comedy is a delicate balance act and I felt he sometimes went for a laugh at the expense of the dramatic tension, in other words I smirked when it would be better to be on the edge of my seat.

Thomas Jane’s a busy chap these days, he's the big man in the HBO series Hung, and he has a couple of comic books for sale, Bad Planet and Alien Pig Farm. He’s also the lead in another film noir called Give ‘Em Hell Malone, which was supposed to air at the Long Beach Convention, but at the very last minute was pulled off the program. Apparently the potential distributors weren’t happy with the movie being screened as is. Who knows what that’s all about and really, Suit People, please respect the artist and audiences and don’t have headline movies pulled from the fan boys and girls as they are buying their popcorn . Note: Watchmen respected audiences and was repaid handsomely with love and box office. Jane replaced the showing with The Mist, in black and white, so he was clearly trying to do right by the audience.

Sony releases Dark Country on October 6th, as I mentioned in 2D on DVD. I am sure the film’s director is very grateful to the Sony folks in the DVD division, who financed this movie. Let me repeat: why allow the movie to be shot in 3 D if you’re not going to let people see it in 3D. Didn’t you see the 3D glasses that Lionsgate included in their recent release of My Bloody Valentine? Guys, try not to drop the ball again, okay? Anyway, enough of my complaining. Despited it's faults, I would go see this movie twice.

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agentorange (8 years ago) Reply

"Jane replaced the showing with The Mist, in black and white."

Awesome.

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lbj (7 years ago) Reply

Fucking horrible movie.


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