Minimalistic extravagance


Minimalism is “a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.”

The Swedes (inventors of all things Ikea) are masters of the art and perhaps in this age of blockbuster excess, a little spareness can be a welcome relief from all the visual noise we are so often subjected to.

Blackway, which was filmed mostly in Enderby and surrounding area, doesn't have one speck of CGI (Computer Generated Imaging) or one ray of sunshine. The entire story happens in one overcast winter’s day with the exception of a few flashback scenes, which occur at night. The flat, grey skies and chill grey lighting would give Revenant a run for its money and serve to provide a moody, depressing backdrop perfectly suited to the residents of the small logging town who long ago gave up on expectations of better, sunnier days.

Waitress Lillian (aptly played by Julia Stiles) has recently moved back to town after the death of her mother. She has taken over the small family home and is planning to make a fresh start. Unfortunately, sooner after arriving in town, she is attacked in a restaurant parking lot and, days later, accosted in her home.

The man responsible for these assaults that includes the beheading of her mother’s cat, (don’t worry, we don’t see it happen) is the former sheriff’s deputy turned legendary bad guy, Blackway (Ray Liotta).

Lillian is tougher than she looks. When she takes the cat to the local sheriff as proof of wrongdoing, she is chagrinned to learn that the sheriff has no intention of helping her. He suggests she make things easy for herself, sell the house and move. When she makes it clear she has no intention of moving and wants justice, he suggests she go to the lumber mill where a local tough who works there might help her. 

The sight of a pretty young blonde gets the attention of the old-timers who work there. Hal Holbrook was 90 years old when this scene was shot and he plays the story-telling Whizzer with real believability. Lillian is disappointed to learn that the tough guy has left town and she is about to leave when Lester (Anthony Hopkins), a long-term employee, offers to help. Clearly, he’s a man of advanced years and when she doubts he can handle the job, he responds “Oh, no, Nate’s coming too; he’s the muscle.” Nate (well played by Alexander Ludwig) is the brawny, stammering young co-worker who trusts Lester and will do what he’s told.

From here, the film is a series of problems as the three look for the elusive Blackway: a bar brawl, the liberation of a drugged, high-school friend of Lillian’s, a hotel fire and ultimately, a waiting game as night descends on the abandoned lumber camp Blackway is said to call home.

Hopkins is the mysterious, soft-spoken, driving force as he moves the trio from one location to another with the calm certainty of an experienced hunter tracking a bear. Lester has his own motivations beyond chivalry and it isn’t until late in the movie that we find out why he wants to get Blackway.

To all outward appearances, he is just the doddering old dude who works in the lumber mill and makes whirligigs for his front lawn. In reality, he’s a man who has lost everything; his daughter died of a drug overdose and his wife left him for a wealthy dentist.

The whirligigs are a metaphor for the pointlessness of his life; like the toys, he is spinning his wheels and has nothing left to live for. We get a sense of paternal kindness as he treats Lillian and Nate as he would children, chastising Lillian when she gets cold feet and wants to get out of the car. They are at the point of no return and need to finish what they’ve started. But he also uses them as bait to lure Blackway.

Liotta plays a wonderful creep and I wish he had been given more screen time. The flashback of Lester at the roadside stop when Blackway was still a police officer is chilling and is the best scene in the film. We aren’t quite sure how things are going to go down and the scene captures the off-balanced vulnerability of people when pulled over by a lone policeman in the middle of nowhere.

Stiles plays a plucky, if enigmatic, Lillian. We are never told why she left town or why she has left Seattle to return to her dreary, little hometown. We know nothing of her history, her relationships or her motivations, but she is likeable and we do believe her as she wants revenge.

Swedish director Daniel Alfredson embraces his inner Ikea and the story fits together like a Billy Shelf Unit complete with all the hardware and instructions. There are no surprises, but there is structure, function and simplicity.

I give this film 3 hearts out of 5.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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