A Review Of Sweet Virginia
Why this sleepy town thriller is more sleepy then thrilling.
When I saw the poster for this movie on Netflix for a selection to watch, I was intrigued seeing how Jon Bernthal was the focus for the promotional poster. Knowing he was in it was initially intriguing, then reading the synopsis, it made sense that a man like Jon Bernthal would be in this considering he would play the type of character to use a set of abilities to protect some of the townsfolk if need be. Then I saw that Christopher Abbott would be in this knowing him from the show Girls, and I wanted to see how these two would work together.
When I did get around to watching this, I defiantly didn't get what I expected, it had some dull moments, which was odd considering it was credited to be a as a thriller movie. But strangely there were some parts that were passable to be a film that had some interesting performances to analyze.
Sweet Virginia is a film about a former rodeo champion that owns a motel called Sweet Virginia in a sleepy Alaska town where a hitman on a job comes to town and the owner of the motel beings to start a friendship with him not knowing of his intentions in the town.
Being a girl that has been raised in Virginia, it did relate to me to have the state mentioned several times. Virginia isn't mentioned a lot in plot dialogue or having a centered conversation around Virginia. It seems minuscule to mention that, but I will admit I did like that for a change of talk about another state that isn't mentioned that often in movies. I had never noticed it until the characters talked about the state, and it was intriguing to realize that Virginia isn't mentioned that often (besides the usual DC area mention) that as a nice touch as well as giving the first dialogue of the two main characters having an engaging conversation about their home state.
When I first started watching this film, I immediately thought it was a lot like First Blood. Oddly enough, thinking that led to finding out why I thought it was similar to First Blood because of the scenery. The area the movie was filmed in was in the same town as First Blood.
At first it reminded me of the movie Heat, how Elwood (Christopher Abbott) and Sam (Jon Bernthal) talked so casually to each other reminded me of the same way Robert De Niro and Al Pacino talked in Heat. There isn't any irony in the interactions we see between Sam and Elwood. We know about Elwood's cruel tactics and intentions and Sam has an inkling about him where he knows something is sinister in this man he's having a late night dinner with. Throughout the film despite the eerie ambiance, anytime these two interacted, it did have some sort of genuine nature thanks to how Jon Bernthal's character carried the dreary film. Sam's character had an awareness to his relaxed nature around someone like Elwood who was a threat and his malicious intentions are known from the beginning of the film, and Sam already has a suspicion of him.
Jon Bernthal was great from the first scene on, that natural onscreen charisma and chemistry that he has with the young girl or the character Bernadette.
What’s weird was Jon Bernthal's character literally got his ass handed to him. Yes it does make sense that he’s a character with a permanent physical problem that was an early onset problem that got worse. It's the way his character was, but it odd for an actor we've known that can be an excellent fighter to not fight. Jon Bernthal has a lot of complexity and variety that he can give a character and he gave it his all, it just wasn't right for him.
It was interesting to see Christopher Abbott do something different, I’ve been used to his character Charlie from Girls that it took me by surprise that he was the threat in this film. He was a little spotty at times for his character, there are moments that he’s almost like Javier Bardem from No Country For Old Men with how he's embodying a sinister nature that is struggling to be controlled. But then there are moments where his origins and problems with his deranged desire are not entirely elaborated. Elwood was kind of a bland villain, obviously he’s like the usual villains, he’s in it for the money, he wasn’t given enough depth as much as Christopher Abbott tried.
With an eerie ambiance is known from the beginning violent acts in the movie. But over the course, the build up was steady, but it was stale. Abbott's villainous character was confusing in his afflictions. He had a certain control in his unhinged character but it needed a little more direction. I loved seeing Jon Bernthal, and I stated, he does a great job with chemistry and he did carry the film with his performance of a mild-mannered man that has a great relationship with the townsfolk, but he was wasted in this movie. The side plot about Imogen Poots' character wasn't exactly thorough with how her character hired Elwood, she's a great actress but she wasn't used to a good potential and she fizzled out. When her character came back near the end I wasn't surprised, I had forgotten all about her because it didn't stand out. Nothing about how the plot was centered around how she had to get the money for Elwood made me fear for her. Like I said, this was supposed to be a thriller film.
I was sort of grateful that this film was short because it did drag and it was very mellow. Not a lot of fighting happened in this film, and from the promotional photos with Jon Bernthal with a rifle as well as his prolific career as rough and tough characters of any kind, he didn’t do much fighting. Christopher Abbott did most of the violence. He wasn’t given a great back story , we just know he’s malicious and that was enough. If his character was presented in a bland way, then I didn't have a desire to see what his life was like before going down a reckless route.
This was a change then how I would normally see these actors, and I do enjoy a good small town mystery now and then if it is done differently and efficiently. I do enjoy seeing something different, but it dragged too long. It's good for a thriller movie to have toned down moments to get to know the characters, but this was siding more to the drama side then the thriller side.
There was a semi-decent build up to having the final fight as the obvious comes to light as we wait for Sam to find out his motel resident has been the one that caused the deaths and chaos in the small Alaskan town. It did come full circle to Sam using the gun on Elwood.
This is a really weird example but the movie Face/Off with Nicolas Cage and John Travolta comes to mind. When you watch that film, you know exactly what you’re going to get watch with Nicolas Cage and John Travolta having the kind of acting style that they do, with unhinged moments and over-acting they complemented each other with how balanced it was in any moment of that film. Christopher Abbott and Jon Bernthal, now it was interesting to see the switch that Christopher Abbott was the bad guy and Jon Bernthal wasn’t the tough guy. It’s so weird to see a movie where he isn’t doing all of these elaborate fight scenes, and he mostly just shoots a gun. It was different to see someone like him of his physical nature do something that’s not a reliance upon his physical strength that marked him as a tough guy in any type of character for TV or film. That was a risk and it did pay off because he can carry the film with his charisma, it was just a bit odd to see him like this. He didn’t have a major fight scene and it was mostly just relying upon for gunplay and wits.
This movie was thankfully short, falling at just an hour and thirty three minutes . It just dragged and lacked a lot of plot. It felt like the bland version of Heat. There wasn’t even a good climax! It was rushed, I knew Sam would shoot Elwood at some point but it needed some more to make it compelling and on the edge of my seat.
These two did a good job but they were wasted in this sleepy town sketchy film. It need more time in the development.
Honestly if you want a small town murder movie with character development and grit, watch Wind River (which ironically also stars Jon Bernthal).
Don't waste your time with this movie anymore then the actors have.