Saturday, February 9, 2019

Movie Reviews: Wetlands

Wetlands
directed by Emanuele Della Valle
Adebisi and Rollergirl come together to make a middling modern noir.
How many movies feature an oncoming storm as metaphor and warning for the changes that are about to impact the characters and alter their life forever. More than I can remember right this instant. It's a pretty common plot device. 

This film uses that device. It is reminiscent of the pseudo noir Key Largo, recently reviewed here. In Key Largo, a gangster trying to recover past glories holds the guests of a hotel hostage while a powerful hurricane threatens to make landfall. In Wetlands, a troubled cop is held hostage by his past failings and must try to move beyond them--while a powerful hurricane threatens to make landfall.

I thought the movie might have gone a little too far in making the protagonist so morally dark. A lot of the dialogue was meh. There is violence but it's not shown as anything other than something which is horrible. It leaves marks on people-both the people who suffer it and those who commit it. 

Unfortunately the director and cinematographer made a very visually dark movie. It can be difficult to see what's going on in many scenes. Obviously they likely did this on purpose to impress upon the moral murkiness of the goings on in the story. I just thought they overdid it.

Babel "Babs" Johnson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje Adebisi from HBO's OZ) is a Army Vet and former Philadelphia cop. However in Philadelphia he fell from grace and on hard times in equal measure. He did some things. He's haunted by them. But cops are nothing if not tenacious. After he's fit to serve again, Babs joins the force in his home town, a bedroom community to Atlantic City.  But a lot of time has passed. Babs's ex-wife Savannah (Heather Graham-Rollergirl from Boogie Nights ), a wealthy woman in her own right, divorced Babs during his troubles. To quote BB King, the way that Savannah used to love Babs is the way she hates him now. Bitter, party of one, your table is ready.

Babs tries to deal with Savannah's scorn only so he can restart his broken relationship with their daughter Amy (Celeste O'Connor). This is going to be difficult as Amy takes her cues from her mother. Making his family life more complex is that when Savannah rejected Babs she also decided against men completely, taking up with a young female punk artist known as Surfer Girl (Reyna DeCourcy). 


Babs doesn't much care about this but he does care that Savannah and Surfer Girl plan to move to Hawaii, something that would make visitation with his daughter very difficult. Not wanting to rely solely on Savannah's money, the entrepreneurial Surfer Girl brings in funds by dealing for (and stealing from) the local mob connected big shot Jimmy (Louis Mustillo). 

This is a problem because strictly speaking not only should Babs run his wife's lover in for drug dealing, but also more ominously Jimmy and his friends have no problem hurting the loved ones of problem employees-i.e. Babs' ex-wife and daughter. In fact they are the kind of folks who enjoy using pain and humiliation to make a point. But Babs isn't the man to passively accept anyone threatening his family.


Most of Babs' fellow police officers are distant towards him, something that is very much rooted in race. A notable exception is his sybaritic partner Paddy Sheehan (Christopher McDonald). Paddy's married to the aging but still attractive TV news anchor Kate (Jennifer Ehle). Kate is feeling the pressure from younger up and coming female newscasters who want her spot. Kate doesn't always feel appreciated. Kate and Babs  each seem to pick up on what the other person is putting down, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

There are flashbacks throughout the film to show the kinds of trouble Babs got up to in Philadelphia and the ongoing struggles with temptation-both chemical and carnal-that fill his life. Unfortunately the dialogue is not that great. The film features annoying voiceovers from people later revealed to be deceased. Unlike in Goodfellas, this didn't work, primarily because the viewer wasn't given enough to become fully invested in the characters. This was not a bad film. It's just not a must see. It wasn't the actors that did anything wrong. The writing didn't have that spark.  You can have fun watching it provided you just turn your brain off and don't ask a lot of questions.
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