The Coen-esque Sweet Virginia, a small-town neo-noir western crime thriller directed by Jamie M. Dagg (River) and written by the brothers Paul and Benjamin China, qualifies to illustrate a clear-cut plot where nothing is given fortuitously or happens out of the blue. Actually, the wackiness of the story is Dagg’s best trump, while his unsophisticated filmmaking style, often relying on moody frames containing sunless settings and deplorable characters, accomplishes its purposes without groundbreaking stunts.
“Exploring sicko paths, this shineless indie has its interesting moments…”
Sam (Jon Bernthal), a natural from Virginia, is a former rodeo champ who owns a small motel located in an underpopulated Alaskan valley. He maintains a secretive relationship with Bernadette (Rosemarie DeWitt), a married woman whose husband is shot dead at point-blank range with two of his longtime friends while having drinks at a local bar. One of them, Mitchell (Jonathan Tucker), was a successful businessman who was actually facing bankruptcy, a fact that not even his attractive wife, Lila McCabe (Imogen Poots), would suspect. Highly dissatisfied with a lousy 3-year marriage, Lila, reveals her co-responsibility in the killings, having hired a psychologically unstable assassin named Elwood (Christopher Abbott) to do the job. This dangerous man, also a Virginian, was supposed to shoot only Mitchell but ended up appeasing his darker instincts by shedding blood in an evil, premeditated way.
An aspect that truly bothered me was the fact that we don’t see a single cop investigating the case. Hence, Elwood, the stranger in town, continues lodged at Sam’s motel as if nothing had happened. Another slightly tortuous episode presented as a futile subplot has to do with a noisy, virulent host of the motel, who brutally confronts a debilitated Sam whenever he attempts to bring him to his senses.
Things get a little bit more neurotic when the penniless Lila, drastic to the core, engenders another filthy plan so that Elwood can receive his job payment.
“A Coen-esque… small-town neo-noir western crime thriller [where] nothing is given fortuitously or happens out of the blue.”
Exploring sicko paths, this shineless indie has its interesting moments. Even when the depiction wasn’t so effective and the narrative scanty in intensity, I felt compelled to follow the story with considerable inquisitiveness while attempting to guess where it would take me. To be honest, I was taken to a primal ground and challenged with raw emotions, interpersonal destructiveness, and a perpetual sense of dark fate.
My particular praises go to the awesome performances by Abbot and Bernthal, as well as for the disturbing music score by the talented Brooke and Will Blair. The brothers’ compositional work also includes Blue Ruin and Green Room, a pair of tenebrous movies directed by Jeremy Saulnier, whose heavy atmosphere is not so distant from the one devised for Sweet Virginia.
If you’re looking for pitch-dark tales packed with wickedness, cruelty, and crime, this one can make your day.
Sweet Virginia (2017) Directed by Jamie M. Dagg. Written by Benjamin China and Paul China. Starring: Jon Bernthal, Christopher Abbott, and Imogen Poots.
6 out of 10