There is an extraordinary performance in Mark Apicella’s haunting short drama “Salvation, Texas” that deserves to be widely seen. Brian Keith Russell, a character actor whose previous film roles consisted mostly of bit parts, accomplishes the work with a quiet power that can literally take away one’s breath. If this film is any indication, Russell has the potential for true stardom.
Russell’s character is a rural Texas taxi driver who is quietly planning retribution on a newly released convict who was responsible for a brutal sexual assault on his daughter. Working with a sleazy character that has his own score to settle with the ex-con, the driver manages to quickly locate his prey.
Russell’s character is given relatively little dialogue, yet the force of his personality conveys the deep anguish he carries. Viewing his surroundings with somber stoicism, he lumbers quietly through a world that barely acknowledges him – his wife is half-awake when he leaves for work, his partner in crime talks past him with contempt, and even the ex-con doesn’t initially recognize him when he enters the death cab. The only person who acknowledges him is his daughter in an eerie dream sequence – the young woman, who is scarred and battered and wears broken angel wings, silently presents him with an unlikely gift that shakes his morality.
At the film’s end, when the chance for revenge is before him, Russell reacts to his task as if the weight of the world is on his broad shoulders. When he finally resolves to fulfill his task, his body gives away to a raw catharsis that brings a rush of sadness and joy to those witnessing his act. It is an utterly amazing performance that is handled with brilliant subtlety.
Apicella’s film, which is not to be confused with the Anne Jeffrey novel of the same name, is blessed with a crisp visual style that mirrors the extremes of this small slice of Texas: the garish neon glow around the small-town honkytonk, the drabness of the working class home where the driver exists (he barely seems to live there), and the eerie ochre vastness of the back country that quietly covers the violence. Jason Goebel’s cinematography is unusually fine, and the careful composition involving a crucifix hanging from the rear view mirror of the taxi is quite striking.
“Salvation, Texas” was originally conceived as a graduate film project at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. This represents the gold standard of what student films should be able to achieve.