Hola Dannie Aqui!
Wheels rolled in with a review of "Sweet Virginia"! Read on!
Jon Bernthal has had a busy, high profile year. He has played small but very memorable roles in BABY DRIVER and WIND RIVER as well as headlining NETFLIX'S newest series MARVEL'S THE PUNISHER. Bernthal's newest headlining project was released on Video On Demand the same day as THE PUNISHER, the neo-western thriller, SWEET VIRGINIA.
SWEET VIRGINIA is directed by relative newcomer Jamie M. Dagg (2015's RIVER). from a "Black List" screenplay by the China brothers. This is Benjamin and Paul China's first produced screenplay and it marks them as a pair to keep an eye on. The story is a stripped down narrative with very little wasted exposition that still possesses nuanced and compelling characters. That is not an easy combination to pull off and it is complimented wonderfully by Dagg's firm directorial hand. He takes what could have easily been a slowing moving film and infuses with compelling directorial choices that build a constant feeling of unease and tension.
The story concerns a triple murder that leaves two women, Lila (Imogene Poots) and Bernadette (Rosemarie DeWitt), widows. Strangely, neither woman seems all that affected by what has occurred. Bernadette has been spending most of her evenings previously with Sam (Bernthal), the proprietor of the only motel in the sleepy mountain town where the story is set. Lila's reasons for not being troubled by her husband's violent end become apparent very quickly as the story unfolds. Both actresses bring nuance and depth to what could have easily been one-note characters in the hands of lesser actresses.
The man responsible for the deaths of their husbands is Elwood (Christopher Abbot), who has recently taken up residence in Sam's motel. Jon Bernthal may be the headliner and get the most screen time but this film very much belongs to Abbot's unsettling drifter, Elwood. Abbot portrays Elwood as socially awkward and quiet but with an always present aura of menace about him. Abbot even makes Elwood sadly sympathetic while still portraying the fact that he is an aggressively violent man who will bludgeon someone for simply looking at him the wrong way. It's an astounding performance that will stick with you after the movie ends.
Bernthal's Sam is almost the exact opposite of Elwood. Where Elwood does not appear threatening at first glance, Sam is an imposing figure who is actually gentle and soft-spoken. He is a retired athlete who gave up the sport he loved, bull riding after too many head injuries left him with progressive neurological issues. So, Sam prefers to talk out conflicts and just quietly live a life managing his business, getting stoned, and spending time with the locals. This is a very different sort of role for Bernthal and he pulls it off beautifully. He is full of quiet melancholy and longing. A very normal guy just trying to live his life peacefully.
Of course, that does not happen though as Elwood and Sam will inevitably come into conflict with each other in a way that while not unpredictable is very compelling and satisfying. Speaking of conflict, the film handles the violence on display very realistically. It is sudden, ugly and has lasting consequences. It greatly adds to the sense of tension and dread that builds throughout the film.
SWEET VIRGINIA is a small, yet finely made thriller that is well worth your time. It is full of interesting performances and I greatly look forward to whatever Jamie M. Dagg and the China brothers do next. Highly recommended.
SWEET VIRGINIA is available on various VOD platforms now.
Great review and groovy avatar Wheels! I will find this one on VOD as soon as possible!
Stay Strong, Live Good, Love Movies!
Dannie aka Pekosa Peligrosa