St. Louis, Missouri is often referred to as “The Gateway to the West,” hence the title of director Michele Civetta’s The Gateway. The film is set in the city’s grittier neighborhoods and focuses on alcoholic social worker Parker (Shea Whigham). We follow him as he deals with kids being neglected for a myriad of reasons. It’s not too long before we found out that Parker himself was in the foster system as a child and came from a broken home.
Of all his cases, Parker has grown closest to Ashley (Taegan Burns). Her father, Mike (Zach Avery), is in prison for activities related to organized crime, and her mother, Dahlia (Olivia Munn), is a blackjack dealer at a local casino. We first meet Ashley as Parker gives her a ride to school. Just as they are about to leave, Dahlia arrives home very late, and Parker gives her a piece of his mind. However, he doesn’t report Dahlia, as he has a good relationship with the family. That is until Mike returns home from prison.
“…[Parker] has a good relationship with the family. That is until Mike returns home from prison.”
Shea Whigham is a criminally underrated actor. I have adored most of his performances, and I think as the lead of The Gateway, he may be the best he’s ever been. Simply because he’s playing a man with nothing much to lose, this makes room for some great acting and directing choices on behalf of Whigham and Civetta. Another fantastic performance is delivered by Bruce Dern, who plays Marcus, Parker’s former drug addict father. The interactions between Whigham and Dern are fiery and worth the price of admission alone. Frank Grillo, another one of my favorite character actors, plays a crime boss who dresses like a Times Square pimp, and it is glorious. Keith David, who is also one of my favorite character actors, has a brief cameo in the casino as well.
This is not a feel-good movie by any stretch of the imagination. It will leave you sad, but it will also make you think about a lot of things. In particular, it examines the way children are treated in America and what the ravages of addiction look like in a number of different demographics. The script by Civetta, Alex Felix Bendaña, and Andrew Levitas really captures the sadness of the dark underbelly of America.
However, The Gateway does have some elements that aren’t wholly depressing. The soundtrack, for example, is awesome. Thanks to music supervisor Alix Brown’s inclusion of songs by The Black Lips and Curtis Harding, among many others. It helps give the film a soulful punk rock energy that it might not have otherwise. Brown also shows up alongside real-life boyfriend Civetta as Parker’s parents in flashbacks. Seriously, watch the dramatic thriller, and I swear you will enjoy it. It is heavy, but so is life. This is one of the better examples of art imitating life that I have seen in a long time. It’s very real and takes no prisoners. Watch it when you feel like having a good cry.
"…great acting and directing choices on behalf of Whigham and Civetta."