A Violent Separation

What are the limits of a brotherly bond? If you knew that your sibling did something terribly wrong, would you go against everything you stood for to protect him? Those are some of the questions that directors – and brothers – Kevin and Michael Goetz raise in their crime thriller A Violent Separation. An infinitely superior follow-up to the 2015 remake of French horror masterpiece Martyrs, Goetz’ latest feature may get bogged down by a flat, made-for-TV look/feel, yet it manages to hold all of its threads together until its inevitable denouement.  

The setting is Texas, 1983. Brothers Norm and Ben (Brenton Thwaites and Ben Robson) couldn’t be more dissimilar, the former a by-the-book sheriff, the latter a rebellious country bumpkin who likes to get into bar fights. While Norm has a sort-of “will-they-won’t-they” thing with local young woman Frances Campbell (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Ben has a tempestuous relationship with her sister Abbey (Claire Holt). An argument in the woods leads to a horrible accident, wherein Ben begs Norm to help him “cover this up.”

An argument in the woods leads to a horrible accident, wherein Ben begs Norm to help him ‘cover this up.’”

Sweating bullets, Norm and Ben observe stalwart cop Ed Quinn (Ted Levine) question locals and piece the puzzle together. The story then skips forward, and while seasons pass, the brothers are “living the dream, as if everything’s just fine” – only it’s not, especially when a certain crucial key surfaces bringing Ed even closer to the truth. It all leads to a finale that’s both affecting and exaggerated, driving the film’s title home.

That’s a lot of story, considering there’s also the business of Abbey’s son Liam (Bowen Hoover) and Campbell’s ailing father (Gerald McRaney). The Goetz brothers do a decent if unremarkable job holding it all together, though the pacing does take a hit sometimes with clumsy leaps, both in time and tone. This is one of those cases when all the ingredients are there – a high-caliber ensemble cast, a competent script – yet a stronger emphasis on style would have helped; think a Coen-esque sense of humor or a Lynchian atmosphere of dread.

“…a vivid intensity in the brothers’ central relationship, as well as their somewhat-incestuous relationship…”

There’s a vivid intensity in the brothers’ central relationship, as well as their somewhat-incestuous relationship with the Campbell sisters. If the directors scaled back on the needlessly-complex tale and tightened the reigns, and if screenwriter Michael Arkof sharpened his dialogue (“I’m a deputy, not a vigilante!” Norm yells shrilly, before absconding to his trailer), they may have had something truly special here.

The title of Goetz’ film refers to the often-drastic ways we have to separate ourselves from our loved ones, but also from our past. It certainly succeeds in distancing the sibling duo from their previous sordid effort and finds them in a new, much more interesting territory.

A Violent Separation (2019) Directed by Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz. Starring Brenton Thwaites, Ben Robson, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Claire Holt, Ted Levine, Francesca Eastwood, Michael Malarkey, Gerald McRaney.

6 out of 10

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