Friday, August 16, 2019
Directed by Jamie M. Dagg and written by Benjamin and Paul China, Sweet Virginia is the story of a motel manager who befriends a mysterious visitor who may be involved in a wave of violence nearby. The film is a neo-noir thriller that explores unlikely friendship between two men as well as a small town coming undone by this wave of violence. Starring Jon Bernthal, Christopher Abbott, Imogen Poots, Rosemarie DeWitt, Odessa Young, and Jared Abrahamson. Sweet Virginia is a haunting yet gripping film from Jamie M. Dagg.
Following a murder at a restaurant/bar in a small Alaskan town, the film revolves in an unlikely friendship between a former rodeo champion who manages a motel and a mysterious drifter who has stopped by as the former isn’t aware that the latter is a hitman. It’s a film that play into a small town that is shaken by this act of violence while they try to move on as a few people deal with the tragedy as well as the motivations of why three men were killed inside a bar. The film’s screenplay by Benjamin and Paul China open with three men at a bar/restaurant getting ready to play a card game when this mysterious drifter in Elwood (Christopher Abbott) arrives wanting a late breakfast as he is refused only to gun down the three men. The film’s narrative follows the lives of Elwood and the motel manager Sam Rossi (Jon Bernthal) who runs the Sweet Virginia motel for his late brother while is an on-off affair with Bernadette Barrett (Rosemarie DeWitt) whose husband Tom (Joseph Lyle Taylor) was one of the three men killed by Elwood.
The script also play into why Elwood is in town as he had been hired to kill one of the men but ends up doing much more which only complicates things for one of the men’s wives in Lila (Imogen Poots) who thought she would inherit money only to learn that her husband was in some serious debt. Elwood’s stay in the town is extended as he would befriend Sam whom he had heard about through Sam’s time as a rodeo cowboy until he retired due to injury. Sam is a man that is someone who was poised for so much only to lose a lot as he’s divorced with a child who barely sees him as he spends his time with his niece Maggie (Odessa Young) whenever he’s not with Bernadette. There’s not much plot to the story as it’s more about characters living their lives but the drama and suspense do pick up toward its third act.
Jamie M. Dagg’s direction is largely straightforward although he doesn’t really go for anything stylistic other than some lingering long shots in parts of the film. Shot largely on locations in British Columbia in Canada including parts of Vancouver, Dagg’s direction does use some wide shots to establish the location but also in some eerie moments as it play into Elwood haunting certain characters or where he is about to go as there are also some medium shots from afar that show him talking on the phone and then beat up a couple of guys. There aren’t a lot of close-ups in Dagg’s direction except in some intimate moments as well as a chilling confrontation between Elwood and Lila late in the film. The film’s opening scene starts off slow while the violence is quite intense but not overtly-bloody and graphic where Dagg is more concerned with a town that is trying to understand what had happened and why as well as these two men ravaged by their past with Elwood also being someone who is extremely troubled. Even in the third act as it is about the money Elwood is owed for his services as the suspense is approached in a low-key manner that would also be followed by Elwood being confronted for his actions. Overall, Dagg crafts a riveting yet eerie film about a motel manager and his encounter with a mysterious yet troubled drifter.
Cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagne does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it maintains a naturalistic look for scenes in the day and at night with its usage of available light as well as using some low-key lights for some interior scenes at night. Editor Duff Smith does nice work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few rhythmic cuts to play into some of the conversations. Production designer Danny Vermette, with set decorator Robin Tilby and art director Justin Ludwig, does fantastic work with the look of Bernadette’s home in the interior as well as the bar/restaurant in the film’s opening scene and the motel that Sam runs.
Costume designer Mia Fiddis does terrific work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward that includes the ragged look of Elwood including some of the shirts he wears. The sound work of Brody Ratsoy is amazing for its low-key approach to the sound as it maintains something that feels natural but also help to play up the suspenseful moments of the film. The film’s music by Brooke and Will Blair is wonderful for its low-key ambient score that play sparingly into parts of the film as it add to drama and sense of loss that occur throughout the film while music supervisor Natasha Duprey provide a soundtrack of music that is played on location as it include a couple of pieces from the Butthole Surfers and Rolla Olak.
The casting by Kate Caldwell, Kara Eide, Melissa Kostenbauer, and Kris Woz is superb as it feature some notable small roles from Garry Chalk as one of the victims in the film’s opening sequence, Gabrielle Rose as an old woman living at the motel, Jonathan Tucker as Elwood’s intended target in Lila’s husband Mitchell, Joseph Lyle Taylor as Bernadette’s husband Tom, and Jared Abrahamson as a young mechanic named Paul who is asked by Elwood to help him retrieve the money he’s owed. Odessa Young is terrific as Sam’s niece Maggie as a teenage girl who helps him with the motel while pondering about her dad as well as her uncle’s own issues with the world in general. Rosemarie DeWitt is fantastic as Bernadette Barrett as a woman who had just lost her husband although she doesn’t feel anything about his passing leaning back to an on-again, off-again affair with Sam while dealing with some truths about her own marriage and how it fell apart.
Imogen Poots is excellent as Lila McCabe as a young woman who hired Elwood for a job only for things to get complicated as it relates to money as she deals with what she’s done prompting her to try and avoid Elwood anyway she can. Christopher Abbott is brilliant as Elwood as a hitman drifting from town to town for a job as he starts to unravel over his lack of payment as he displays a creepiness and an instability that makes him a dangerous person to encounter. Finally, there’s Jon Bernthal in an amazing performance as Sam Rossi as a former rodeo champion who has retired due to injury to run his late brother’s motel as he tries to keep things to himself and engage in his relationship with Bernadette where he later befriends Elwood unaware of who Elwood really is as he later becomes troubled by some of the violence that is happening in his town.
Sweet Virginia is a marvelous film from Jamie M. Dagg. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, an eerie music score, and a chilling premise that play into loss and mental illness. It’s a neo-noir film that doesn’t play by the rules while doesn’t emphasize a lot on plot in favor of character study. In the end, Sweet Virginia is a remarkable film from Jamie M. Dagg.
© thevoid99 2019