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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 09.07.11] movie review news drama mystery

Year: 2010
Director: Monte Hellman
Writer: Steven Gaydos
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Monte Hellman hasn't exactly been burning up the screens in the years since his cult hit Two Lane Blacktop but when word surfaced last year that Hellman had a new film on the way, his first full length feature in over 20 years, the critics paid attention and the festival crowds soon followed.

Road to Nowhere was a critical mixed bag. An official selection at Venice, Whistler and SXSW among others, Hellman's new film stars Shannyn Sossamon as an actress who becomes involved with a film about a mystery that features a romance, murder and an apparent cover-up. Or at least that's what I made of it. Written by Steven Gaydos, an executive editor at Variety, Road to Nowhere isn't exactly your straight forward narrative and the mixing of fact and fiction are likely the reason the film didn't garner across the board praise.

Vancouver native Tygh Runyan (an indie and TV darling who made quite an impact with his turn in A Gun to the Head (review)) stars as Mitchell Haven, a young director who has found his new film in the pages of a reporter's blog. It centers on a young woman named Velma who falls for an older man; a relationship that ends shrouded in death and mystery as there seems to have been a financial scheme boiling in the background. Haven is obsessed with the story and with the help of a PI and the reporter familiar with the story, they begin to piece together what could be a huge hit of a movie. Complete with an inner look at Hollywood wheeling and dealing, the crew eventually arrives on location and the mystery unravelling on the page also begins to take hold of the crew and at the end of it all, Haven finds himself a criminal; spending his days behind bars with plenty of time to analyze the events that landed him there.

Road to Nowhere is a complicated, sometimes overly so, narrative. The story bounces back and forth between the real-life mystery that is at the centre of the production and the production itself as it unfolds. The script is being massaged and we see the real-life mystery unfold as the movie does and with the added suggestion that the actress could be the missing Velma, it's particularly hard to distinguish what actually happened and what's being captured for the movie. There also appears to be a real-life mystery surrounding the actress, there were two men she asks for money to, apparently, go into hiding and though the men make a few other appearances, I couldn't quite figure out how they fit into the story.

Though it's a confusing mess, there's a magic about Hellman's capturing of these stories. Even though I was lost in it, I found myself drawn to the tale of Velma and Rafe and the parallel romance between Haven and the actress Laurel Graham. I enjoyed shaking my head as actress and director watched classics and discussed their merits. At the hands of any other director, these scenes would likely elicit a head shoulder shrugging "ugh" but Runyan and Sossamon wonderfully embody the characters and their excellent performances are key to Road to Nowhere's appeal.

It will be a long time and many watches before I can wrap my mind around the narrative of Road to Nowhere never mind the tidbits of meaning in everything from the film's title to who Sossamon's character really is but while some films that are this dense, Gaydos' script doesn't feel like it's trying to be a grandiose story specifically developed to confuse and divide those who get it from those who don't. There's a genuine joy in getting lost in this story and wanting to re-watch it and uncover the various mysteries at play and I look forward to a re-visit.

Road to Nowhere is available on DVD and Blu-ray today.

DVD Extras: This release features a 15 behind the scenes featurette which includes interviews with Gaydos, a number of the cast and crew and provides a little more insight into the film. I particularly enjoyed hearing Gaydos talk about the script and his inspiration. There's also a 15 minute Q&A from the Nashville Film Festival which makes for an interesting watch but doesn't add much to the overall enjoyment of the story either than supporting my idea that even the guys behind the film aren't exactly sure what it's about.

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