Saturday, August 15, 2020

Movie Reviews: Galveston

Galveston
directed by Melanie Laurent


This 2018 neo-noir movie was the English language directorial debut of Melanie Laurent. You may remember her from her role in Inglorious Basterds as Shoshanna, the Jewish cinema owner, who is seeking revenge on the Nazis for murdering her family. Apparently Laurent is something of a Renaissance woman, being a director, actress and singer among other things. On the surface the Galveston movie may seem familiar to you.
After a chance encounter a bad man feels obligated to defend a broken angel of a woman from even worse people. In so doing he may rediscover his own humanity, find redemption and/or even find the love that he has convinced himself he doesn't need, previously lost, or will never have. And as in many films of this type a road trip is included. So yes, we've all likely seen that story before. 

Galveston follows that basic outline before deviating. This film was an emotional gut-punch because it defied typical Hollywood conventions even as it teased the viewer into thinking that they would be upheld. The best way I can describe this film visually is that it hearkens back to some late sixties early seventies films. Things are literally very dark on screen at times, which reflects some of the characters and the decisions that they make. 

This is not a Hollywood action film. No one gets shot in the shoulder and declares in a deadpan manner "It went straight through. I'll be fine." When people get hurt, physically or emotionally, they stay hurt for a while. 

Laurent takes her time establishing character reactions and feelings. There's a fair amount of silence throughout the film as we watch people react to each other, express feelings, or just survive ordeals. This film is based on the novel of the same name by Nick Pizzolatto (creator of True Detective), who also wrote the screenplay under a pseudonym. I think I would like to read that book now. Have you ever had a job where your boss doesn't like you? That's not good. It can be worse if you are unaware of your supervisor's ire.
Someone who doesn't enthusiastically greet the boss in the hallway may be marked down on a performance review. Someone who skips a status meeting may belatedly discover that was the last straw for a boss who already disliked her. A boss may schedule regular meetings with an employee to express her disdain and to encourage the employee to quit and save her the trouble of firing him. 

Roy (Ben Foster) is an enforcer and occasional hit man for the New Orleans mobster Stan Pitko (Beau Bridges). Roy's vaguely aware that he's not Stan's most favorite person in the world. Apparently a woman is involved. But Roy has more serious problems. An alcoholic and prodigious cigarette smoker, Roy's been having breathing problems and coughing fits. A doctor confirms that there's a mass on Roy's lung. Roy leaves before the doctor can tell him how much longer he has to live with the Big C. Stan informs Roy and another goon that he has a job for them. 

They must scare someone who owes Stan money. But because Roy and the other fellow can sometimes be too intense, Stan orders them not to take any guns with them. Just a shakedown, maybe a few slaps and threats is all that Stan wants. Well that's odd.
When Roy and his co-worker show up at the house to play Big Bad Wolf they are ambushed. But you don't become a middle aged hit man by being unresourceful or trusting. 
Roy turns the tables on Stan's hitters and kills them all. Roy rescues a very young and very frightened escort named Rocky (Elle Fanning) who was evidently in the wrong place at the wrong time. Roy and Rocky flee New Orleans for Roy's hometown of Galveston. Along the way they pick up Rocky's three year old sister. 

For someone in his line of work Roy is initially judgmental about Rocky's career path. Both Roy and Rocky have secrets which will be shared, if not always with other, then with the viewer. Rocky isn't just eye candy. She's not an action grrl who can kill people with bobby pins. Neither is Roy a superhuman killer. Galveston is not a cartoon movie. People make mistakes. They tell lies. 

There's not much exposition. Rocky and Roy often must choose between options that are horrible and worse. Galveston investigates love, regret, sacrifice, connection, and redemption. There are no pithy one liners during a gunfight. If you want that, look elsewhere. Galveston is a slow paced character drama. Some people might find this film depressing. I found it realistic and arguably transcendent. The acting performances and Laurent's deft directorial choices made this film work. I'll remember this film.
Foster and Fanning did good jobs. A lot of Foster's work is subtle and wordless. C.K. McFarland impresses as a blunt, protective, and suspicious hotel owner. Robert Aramayo has a small role as someone who thinks he sees a kindred soul in Roy.

There is a long but silent tracking shot that reminded me of a similar scene in Goodfellas. I liked the cinematography but thought some scenes were too dark. The violence is often more intense because much of it is offscreen. If you can tolerate something off the beaten path give this a look see. Unfortunately there are a few audio issues, especially at the beginning.
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