|Original title:||Sweet Virginia|
|Director:||Jamie M. Dagg|
|Running time:||95 minutes|
|Release date:||00 0000 (France)|
Rife with flawed characters, Sweet Virginia’s suspense lies in it’s plausible storyline. The movie begins with the brutal killing of three townsfolk, revealing at their wake how interconnected the small town, and their morality, truly is. Sam (Jon Bernthal); the local motel owner, the widow Bernadette (Rosemarie Dewitt), the young widow Lila (Imogen Poots), and later in the film; the killer Elwood (Christopher Abbott), are all drifting entities that eventually crash together in the obscure thriller.
The movie is powered by great performances from Abbott, Bernthal, and Poots. Imogen Poots wide eyed wandering about as a woman who gravely missteps is at the heart of the resulting actions. She comes across neither hateful or bitter, avoiding female stereotypes for characters written previously for that role. Unfortunately her storyline never feels fleshed out enough to connect with, thus Lila becomes a side street in a timeline that originated from her pain.
Jon Bernthal’s Sam is neither brazen hero nor hopeless coward. Bernthal’s portrayal of the former rodeo rider turned small town motel owner is teeth gritting in his reactions. From his inability to extract an overbearing couple from his own hotel, to his odd floating interaction in his own life decisions, you can almost feel the void in his self confidence. Any character written as such would have been maddening, But Jon Bernthal manages to humanize him in a way that draws out the emotion despite the gaps in his backstory, gaps the audience yearns to completely understand him.
But it is Elwood, a killer rooted not in psychopathic mentality, but frustrated anger, that truly highlights the darkness of Sweet Virginia; his knee jerk meltdowns are frightening in just how possible they truly are. Elwood is not a methodic killer, his violent actions seem more reactionary than well planned out, making him a frightening specimen of the human landscape. Abbott’s portrayal overcomes his own boyish appearance, training the audience early to belay expectations for what appears to be an unhinged subject.
Unfortunately for the audience the characters are never given the opportunity to be fully understood. While back story hints are dropped organically through out the film, they never quite weave together to complete the story. We are given crumbs for Lila and Sam, and even less for Elwood. The actors did them justice for the snapshot of the tale, but the storyline cries out for reasoning. Even Sam’s tale of bull riding is given halfway, and in a gratuitous shot at the end of the film, leaving us with simply the understanding that it happened, but not how it formed the man that Sam became. Without the depth of the characters storylines Sweet Virginia comes across as just a tale of moral ambiguity, and the potential future Dateline special it could become.
Pre-screened thanks to IFC