Vern reviews Thomas Jane's DARK COUNTRY (the first review?)
Published at: Aug. 25, 2009, 8:13 p.m. CST by merrick
I am Vern...
DARK COUNTRY, by rookie director Thomas Jane, is a stylized noir made on a low budget with a minimal cast. It was written by a guy who wrote Disney's TARZAN and HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. It was shot in 3-D but is going straight to flat DVD. But somehow this weird combination of elements makes up a pretty good little movie, and possibly the best ever directed by one of the Punishers.
Jane plays a dude who just woke up in Vegas with a gorgeous woman he drunkenly married (Lauren German). He doesn't remember how it happened but he's convinced he loves her so they set out for a romantic night drive across the desert toward their new life together, both of them kind of amused and terrified by their reckless spontaneity. Their lust and horror sort of headbutt each other when an in-car sex act causes them to run over a guy in the middle of the road. They try to bring him somewhere that they can get help but they keep getting lost and he flips out on them and before long they're trying to hide a body.
Jane does a great job of putting you in a paranoid mind state. They start to worry that they can't trust each other. Who could this guy be? Is he after them? Was he following them? The events get more and more surreal - are they losing it? Are they dead? Are they gonna be dealing with the Hellcops from that movie HIGHWAY TO HELL?
The opening scene is pretty disorienting with its hardboiled voiceover and show-offy closeups, enough that I questioned Jane's directorial chops at first. But I quickly learned that I liked his style: dynamic shots, alot of momentum to the editing, vivid imagery with their faces lit by the light on his dashboard, contrasted against dark desert sky. It's obviously a low budget movie, he couldn't shoot the whole thing driving through a real desert at real night so he went for some stylization that fits with the feverish noir tone of the story - exaggerated stars, lightning, colors, sometimes the driving looks like a process shot from an old Hitchcock movie or something. Great atmosphere. And it's a shame this isn't playing somewhere in 3-D because there are a bunch of cool comin' at ya type shots. Fortunately they work organically within the story, so most people will just mistake them for cool shots. It's not like that asteroid in CAPTAIN EO that looks so unimpressive on the 2-D bootlegs.
Jane also knows how to use music, all of it vintage and timeless, nothing dated to now. One of the crucial scenes is all set to classical music because it's all they can get on the radio besides country. Even the end credits use music and sound effectively, keeping the dreamy feel of the movie lingering in your mind afterwards.
So I like the movie's look, sound and feel, but DARK COUNTRY's biggest strength is much simpler: it's the acting. For most of the movie Jane and German are the only two people on screen - it could almost be a play. If either one had been weak it would've blown the whole thing, but both of them are great going through puppy love, panic, fear, anger. I was rooting for those crazy kids to work it out.
Since you don't know anything about the wife's background but you know what tends to happen in this type of story you start wondering if she's setting him up somehow. But as much as she could use her sexuality as a weapon (the passenger seat masturbation scene will be enjoyed by many) she doesn't come across like some dominating femme fatale, or a too-innocent girl-next-door either. She just seems like a nice, funny girl with a few problems. A person. (Well, an incredibly hot person.)
My one complaint is that I figured out what was gonna happen. I was prepared to roll with the punches and I don't think "figuring it out" kills a good movie, but since it immediately ends after the reveal it felt a little anti-climactic. Kind of a TWILIGHT ZONE episode that you got a step ahead of. Oh well, it happens.
Still, an impressive feature directing debut by the guy from THE MIST, and yet another good leading role for his resume. I hope he keeps at it.