Director: Simon Hawkins, Zeke Hawkins
Writer: Dutch Southern
Starring: Jeremy Allen White, Logan Huffman, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Pellegrino
Producer: Justin X. Duprie, Brian Udovich
Running Time: 92 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I love a good 'noirish' crime thriller, both in novel and film form. From the full on film noir of the 40's and 50's to neo-noir such as L.A. Confidential and No Country For Old Men, I've always been drawn to the dark, elaborate plots and hard boiled dialogue and content. So, when the press release for We Gotta Get Out of This Place popped up in my inbox, I jumped at the chance of reviewing the film.
The chief influence of this debut feature from brothers Simon and Zeke Hawkins isn't really The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon or anything like that though (books or films). Barely 5 minutes into the film, when one of the characters is discussing the latest crime novel she's reading, she pulls out and recommends South of Heaven by Jim Thompson. With this love of the author's work coming back into the film a couple of times later too, it's clear that We Gotta Get Out of This Place is an ode to the hardboiled American author. I must admit I haven't read any of his books (even though I should have given my penchant for the crime genre) so I'll probably have missed further references to them, but it didn't stop me from appreciating the style the filmmakers were trying to recreate.
The plot of the film concerns the trouble three friends get into just as they approach a turning point in their lives. Living in a small town in Texas, cut off from the more forward thinking world of the city, two of the teenagers are keen to “get out of this place” as the title puts it. Having just finished school and being pretty bright, Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) and Sue (Mackenzie Davis) are all set to achieve this by going to college, with Sue's boyfriend B.J. (Logan Huffman) due to be left behind to tread water in the backwards town. This doesn't seem to phase him (at first) and he wants his friends to leave in style, so he takes the two of them out for the night of their lives. Not having enough cash to do so, B.J. foolishly steals a whole lot of money from his boss Giff (Mark Pellegrino) to fund the evening. Giff isn't the most forgiving of people though and, when Bobby takes the blame and the others are implicated too, he threatens them into stealing back a larger amount of money from his own boss, Big Red (William Devane), or face the brutal consequences.
This setup got me totally hooked. You could see things were going to spiral out of control and the mismatched characters alongside some other complications (blossoming from the fact that Bobby and Sue clearly have the hots for each other) all pointed towards a film that would tick all of my boxes.
For the most part this was true and the film delivered the crime/noir tropes that I know and love as well as offering its own twist on them. However, I couldn't help feeling that it never lived up to the strength of the opening third. Once the idea of the forced heist was set up and the love triangle started to take centre stage I felt the film dwindled a bit, leading to a less engaging mid-section. The performances are decent, feeling fairly natural (Huffman was a little over the top, although this was more due to the writing than the actor's delivery) but the relationship problems weren't really interesting enough to excite me like some of the initial ideas did.
B.J's ways of dealing with the revelations get quite nasty, but ultimately the end result of this as well as the film's finale in general felt a bit predictable. I was expecting a number of mind-boggling twists and turns, but instead there's just (SPOILER) a predictable double-cross and a bog-standard 'villain showdown'. (END OF SPOILER).
That said, the film is undeniably well made. In terms of mood and style, everything is handled brilliantly. There's a first person perspective sequence in the middle which, although stylish and clever, sticks out like a sore thumb, but for the most part this is a dark and moody thriller/drama with some beautifully gloomy cinematography and a cool soundtrack.
There's a nice hardboiled edge to things too, largely whenever Giff is involved. His scenes always demand your attention, partly due to a great performance, but also down to how downright evil his character is.
As good as a number of elements were, I couldn't help feeling that We Gotta Get Out of This Place could have been that bit stronger though. It just lost a bit of momentum for me and then ended in a fairly uninspired manner. I'd still recommend the film to fans of Thompson and crime/noir in general, but don't expect a Coen Brothers level reimagining.
We Gotta Get Out of This Place is out in UK cinemas on 15th August and on DVD on 8th September, released by Metrodome. I saw an online screener so can't comment on the quality or features of the DVD release.