Moderator / Reviewer
- Apr 4, 2017
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Neo Noir thrillers have been making a come back as of late, and it’s been an interesting ride. As a fan of the Coen Brother’s early works, I’ve been watching with interest as more and more directors are crafting films that emulate their work, almost as a tribute to their trailblazing. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seemed to copy the newer style of the brother writers/directors, while Sweet Virginia hearkens back to the REALLY early days of the duo. If I had to put a finger on a comparative film from their repertoire it would have to be Blood Simple. The movie is slow paced, methodical, but interspersed with small portions of violence that is grossly underplayed by the laid back tone of everything else going on around those instances. The film does have its fair share of drawbacks, but it is an entertaining slow burn thriller with an excellent casting choice by sophomore writers, Ben and Paul China (who labels themselves as “The China Brothers” in the credits. A bit similar to the people they seem to be emulating I might add).
We open up with three men in a diner discussing a business proposition, when in walks a lone man who slaughters the three of them without mercy (a man who’s only known as “Elwood”, and played by Christopher Abbott). Lo and behold this hitman was hired by one of the men’s wives (played by Imogen Poots) to off her husband. Only thing was, he took things a bit too far and killed the other two men in the diner to make it look more random. This leaves several grieving widows, not only including Lila (the one who hired Elwood), but Bernadette Barrett (Rosemarie Dewitt) as well. The grieving widow may not have been all THAT grieving, as she has been carrying on an affair with wounded rodeo rider, Sam Rossi (Jon Bernhall), who is just trying to make ends meet as a humble motel clerk (named Sweet Virginia, where the movie gains its name from).
Things go from bad to worse when it comes to light that Lila’s husband WASN’T the rich person she thought he was, and now she doesn’t have the money to pay Elwood for his hit job. Being that he can’t get blood from a turnip, Elwood turns to Bernadette, as her husband was known for his suspicions of banks, and squirreled all of his money away. As the nightmarish Elwood coolly continues his merciless mission of gaining his due compensation, the little Alaskan town is upended with bone crunching violence that sends ripples down the entire community.
However, that cold psychotic nature of Elwood is also one of the film’s flaws. Christopher Abbott plays the hitman to a T, but it’s so cliched in so many ways that you can’t help but roll your eyes. It’s not that Elwood isn’t a convincing assassin with a tenuous grip on reality, but its that he plays the character so hammily that you kind of feel that he’s a caricature more than anything. The same thing goes for the odd relationship with Bernadette and Sam. Not that their relationship was badly done, it just seemed unnecessary for the story to have her be one of the widows. Nothing was really fully fleshed out with that “scandal” and just felt a little unnatural.
Rated R for violence, some strong sexuality, language, and drug use
Sweet Virginia is a nice twist from sophomore writers Ben and Paul China, with a solidly directed effort from Jamie Dagg. The story is very laid back and methodical, once again reminding me more of Blood Simple from the Coen Brothers more than anything. There’s a few minor issues with the script, but overall this is a refreshing change of pace from all of the revenge thrillers out there. IFC films is usually one associates with modern horror films, but this is a nice change up that I honestly wasn’t expecting. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray is decently done for the most part, but sadly is a rather light on the extras. Still well worth checking out.
Starring: Jon Bernhall, Imogen Poots, Christopher Abbott
Directed by: Jamie M. Dagg
Written by: Benjamin and Paul China
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Studio: Shout Factory
Runtime: 93 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: April 3rd, 2018
Recommendation: Solid Watch