Friday, July 31, 2015

Runoff

Here's a sort of old-fashioned story of a husband and wife living in the country, running a farm supplies company, with a couple of kids, and a the sort of serious debt problems that seem to be endemic to farmers. (Although, come to think of it, my great-grandfather ran a farm and never had any financial problems that I know of. I think he ended up with a lot of money and property, actually.)

Anyway, the story is that the family's being squeezed, and the big question is will they/won't they take this dodgy job for the big cash wad money. A simple, classic story that you don't get much of these days, and with enough of its own voice to keep it interesting.

I particularly liked, for example, the husband/wife relationship. Betty and Frank are 20 years married, and still very much in love (and impossibly good looking, 'cause, why not?), and Frank's main "mistreatment" of Betty is trying to shield her from their financial problems. Betty's his business partner as well as wife, but she gave up going out and selling to raise the boys, and to help out she ends up going out trying to drum up new business.

It's cool that she's not even mad about Frank hiding it from her. She just pitches in.

She'd probably be less sanguine about his health problems, which he's also hiding from her, and which she finds out a little bit about toward the end of the movie. (She never really does find it all out, just that it's going to be expensive.)

Betty's also the bridge between the old-fashioned work-with-your-hands Frank and the more artistically inclined son.

Yeah, it's really Betty's movie. But the characterizations are strong enough that, by the end of the movie, you're really fearing for her soul. And for that alone, along with the wonderful photography of the beautiful, treacherous countryside, this movie is worth seeing.

It's weakest in the suspense department. The Boy spotted this and said, "I thought they over-used tension". Yes, there's a big difference between tension and suspense. Joel Siegel once said—I forget of which movie—that two hours of suspense is exciting, but two hours of tension just gives you a headache.

Runoff hasn't nearly that level of problem. The tension isn't ratcheted up too high. These are stoic farm folk; there's not much in the way of histrionics. But where writer/director Kimberly Levin (in her debut feature) has a near perfect grasp of the characters, the scenery and even the basics of plot, she seems to shy away from what could have been truly suspenseful scenes. The climax of the movie is so matter-of-fact as to rob the movie of some of its power.

The climax also suffers from a certain improbability, as if our smart, tough heroine suddenly ran out of ideas.

Apart from these details, though, I really liked the conclusion and the way Frank and Betty each resolved the moral dilemma presented to them. It was unexpected. It shouldn't have been, and the simple surprising nature of it is kind of a testament to how powerful character drama can be if you're not constantly serving a simplistic message of political correctness. (A strength shared with the similarly surprising Mississippi Grind.)

I'm not saying how because: Spoilers. But the fact that the audience rates this at 92% on RT while critics only give it an 82% might be precisely because of this willingness to serve the story and its characters over "acceptable" messages.

Neal Huff (who had small roles in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom) does a fine job as the husband, but the movie really belongs to the amazing Joanne Kelly (who features regularly on something called "Warehouse 13"). Shout out to Alex Shaffer, whom we haven't seen since Win Win, and who was just as believable here—like, you don't even think he's acting, but he's much different here than in the wrestling picture.

This is one of those situations where we saw this on the only screen playing it in America—which is a shame. This kind of movie is a good antidote/counter-balance for the superhero flick.

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