UK Release Date: 15th January 2018
Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: Jamie M Dagg
Writer: Benjamin China, Paul China
Starring: Jon Bernthal, Imogen Poots, Rosemarie DeWitt, Christopher Abbott, Odessa Young
Synopsis: A brutal triple murder ignites a dark and unusual chain of events in a small Alaskan town, with the repercussions of the violence echoing throughout a number of families.
Just about every filmmaker working in the world of indie thrillers relishes the prospect of being compared to the Coen Brothers. Jamie M Dagg, director of Alaskan neo-noir Sweet Virginia, will be pleased to read then that his film bears comparison with No Country for Old Men in that it sees an icy, terrifying killer roaming slowly through the world of the movie, appearing briefly for scenes of explosive brutality. Unfortunately for Dagg, that’s where the similarity begins and ends.
Sweet Virginia begins with Elwood (Christopher Abbott) walking ominously into a bar after closing time and subsequently shooting all three of the occupants dead. We then discover Elwood is a hitman, working on the orders of Lila (Imogen Poots), who wanted her husband dead to cash in on life insurance, but is shocked that Elwood killed all three of the men present. Meanwhile, Elwood befriends motel boss Sam (Jon Bernthal), whom he recognises as a former rodeo star back in Virginia.
There’s an unfocused and muddled quality to Sweet Virginia. It’s this lack of a narrative through-line that constantly impedes any attempt Dagg makes to create tension from the threat of further violence and the increasingly tangled relationships between the central characters. The film simply ambles between scenes and locations with a total lack of discipline and an obvious lack of depth. These characters are related in numerous ways, but the film isn’t all that bothered by these connections and never has the inclination to deepen them in any tangible or impactful way.
Jon Bernthal delivers a bizarrely taciturn performance as the motel owner turned vigilante who finds himself in an inadvertent friendship with Christopher Abbott, who is the film’s bright spot as a convincingly twitchy psychopath. Strangely, it’s his character whom Sweet Virginia tries to add an extra layer to by showcasing a tense, seemingly one-way conversation on the phone between him and his apparently ill mother back home in the Deep South. Imogen Poots is initially the best thing in the movie as a woman completely out of her depth, but the film forgets about her in order for Bernthal to get his heroic third act.
There’s an interesting tone to Sweet Virginia, but it never quite seems sure of itself. Dagg certainly lacks the immediate swagger you get from a Coen Brothers movie and the script, from the China brothers, has none of the acerbic wit and scathing social commentary you’d expect from cinema’s far more interesting sibling partnership. Instead, Sweet Virginia is a movie as empty and arid as the rural landscapes in which it is set.
None available for review.
Pop or Poop?
Despite a handful of impressive performances, Sweet Virginia is an unconvincing noir film that never really gives viewers much of a reason to become invested in its grim, dusty world of dark motels and crappy diners. Imogen Poots and Christopher Abbott manage to stand out amidst the blandness.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Sweet Virginia is available on DVD in the UK now, courtesy of Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment.