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dir Jason Stone
scr Scott Abramovitch
prd Randy Mani, Lonny Dubrofsky, Scott Abramovitch, Nicholas Tabarrok
with Susan Sarandon, Gil Bellows, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Heyerdahl, Kevin Parent, Kristin Booth, John Ralston, Ted Whittall, Katy Breier, Jane Moffat
release US 29.Aug.14, UK 10.Oct.14
On the case: Sarandon
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Set in rural Canada, this film is a haunting mystery that evokes comparisons with Fargo due to its snowy small-town atmosphere and dark sense of humour. But this is also a surprisingly moody thriller, overcoming a nagging sense of predictability with skilful filmmaking and a cleverly unsettling use of religious themes.
On a combination of alcohol and pain-killers, creaky middle-aged cop Hazel (Sarandon) finds a family friend violently murdered and decides to handle the case herself. She and detective Ray (Bellows) are joined by Ben (Grace), who transferred from Toronto to the sleepy Fort Dundas just in time for the first murder in four years. Then as they investigate they spot similarities in killings across the country. And by consulting a priest (Sutherland) who's an expert in Latin, they realise that these murders are part of a master plan that's linked to early Christian mysticism.
Director Stone cleverly blends seemingly discordant tonal elements to keep the audience off-balance, mixing dry wit with a seriously foreboding tone. As the cops joke about their non-existent budget and miserable personal lives, an added sense of background menace is added by the mystical, beardy Simon (Heyerdahl), who can apparently work miracles with people who are ill. Even though the script lets the audience in on whodunit long before the investigators, the piece-by-piece mystery is still thoroughly gripping.
There's also an enjoyably scruffy approach to the plot, which never tries to make everything cut and dried. This gives space for particularly lively, honest performances, anchored by Sarandon as a woman who seems painfully bored by everything about her life. Both Bellows and especially Grace make the most of characters who could be dull stereotypes. And more spice than expected is sprinkled around by Sutherland and Burstyn (as Hazel's retired-judge mum).
It's rare to find a police thriller that digs so deeply beneath the surface of its story and characters. Scenes are packed with questions of life and death, including hints that the victims might have been willing participants in something much bigger. And amid the gruesome twists and turns of the case, there's a remarkable sense of reckoning for the central characters, people who are at the end of their rope and need a miracle. Which is so resonant that it can't be undermined by a corny finale.
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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