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Vern reviews Thomas Jane’s DARK COUNTRY (the first review?)

tn_darkcountryOver on the Ain’t It Cool News I have what I believe to be the first review anywhere of DARK COUNTRY, directed by and starring Thomas Jane. Most of it takes place at night but I thought I would use the thumbnail on the left because I thought he looked kind of like Steve McQueen there. Also this is the beginning of the movie when he’s leaving for his honeymoon with his new wife, so I use this picture to symbolize Tom Jane beginning his new life as a director. One of the cups is for him and one is for directing. I’m sure you understood that without me explaining it though.

I am Vern…

DARK COUNTRY, by rookie director Thomas Jane, is a stylized noir made on a low budget with a minimal cast. It was written by a guy who wrote Disney’s TARZAN and HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. It was shot in 3-D but is going straight to flat DVD. But somehow this weird combination of elements makes up a pretty good little movie, and possibly the best ever directed by one of the Punishers.

Dark CountryJane plays a dude who just woke up in Vegas with a gorgeous woman he drunkenly married (Lauren German). He doesn’t remember how it happened but he’s convinced he loves her so they set out for a romantic night drive across the desert toward their new life together, both of them kind of amused and terrified by their reckless spontaneity. Their lust and horror sort of headbutt each other when an in-car sex act causes them to run over a guy in the middle of the road. They try to bring him somewhere that they can get help but they keep getting lost and he flips out on them and before long they’re trying to hide a body.

Jane does a great job of putting you in a paranoid mind state. They start to worry that they can’t trust each other. Who could this guy be? Is he after them? Was he following them? The events get more and more surreal – are they losing it? Are they dead? Are they gonna be dealing with the Hellcops from that movie HIGHWAY TO HELL?

The opening scene is pretty disorienting with its hardboiled voiceover and show-offy closeups, enough that I questioned Jane’s directorial chops at first. But I quickly learned that I liked his style: dynamic shots, alot of momentum to the editing, vivid imagery with their faces lit by the light on his dashboard, contrasted against dark desert sky. It’s obviously a low budget movie, he couldn’t shoot the whole thing driving through a real desert at real night so he went for some stylization that fits with the feverish noir tone of the story – exaggerated stars, lightning, colors, sometimes the driving looks like a process shot from an old Hitchcock movie or something. Great atmosphere. And it’s a shame this isn’t playing somewhere in 3-D because there are a bunch of cool comin’ at ya type shots. Fortunately they work organically within the story, so most people will just mistake them for cool shots. It’s not like that asteroid in CAPTAIN EO that looks so unimpressive on the 2-D bootlegs.

Jane also knows how to use music, all of it vintage and timeless, nothing dated to now. One of the crucial scenes is all set to classical music because it’s all they can get on the radio besides country. Even the end credits use music and sound effectively, keeping the dreamy feel of the movie lingering in your mind afterwards.

So I like the movie’s look, sound and feel, but DARK COUNTRY’s biggest strength is much simpler: it’s the acting. For most of the movie Jane and German are the only two people on screen – it could almost be a play. If either one had been weak it would’ve blown the whole thing, but both of them are great going through puppy love, panic, fear, anger. I was rooting for those crazy kids to work it out.

Since you don’t know anything about the wife’s background but you know what tends to happen in this type of story you start wondering if she’s setting him up somehow. But as much as she could use her sexuality as a weapon (the passenger seat masturbation scene will be enjoyed by many) she doesn’t come across like some dominating femme fatale, or a too-innocent girl-next-door either. She just seems like a nice, funny girl with a few problems. A person. (Well, an incredibly hot person.)

My one complaint is that I figured out what was gonna happen. I was prepared to roll with the punches and I don’t think “figuring it out” kills a good movie, but since it immediately ends after the reveal it felt a little anti-climactic. Kind of a TWILIGHT ZONE episode that you got a step ahead of. Oh well, it happens.

Still, an impressive feature directing debut by the guy from THE MIST, and yet another good leading role for his resume. I hope he keeps at it.

–Vern

Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/42154

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2009 at 12:49 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “Vern reviews Thomas Jane’s DARK COUNTRY (the first review?)”

  1. Thanks Vern, probably wouldn’t have heard about this without your review. It sounds a bit like Edgar Ulmer’s 1945 film ‘Detour’. Tiny budget, mostly just two actors, a lot of film spent in cars. You should definatly check it out if you get chance, great example of low budget b-movie noir that is far better than you’d think its budget would allow.

    Will try and get hold of Dark Country in whatever decade it gets around to the UK. Have you heard about “Give ’em Hell, Malone”?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1258137/

    Seems like Jane really is into the pulpy/noir style films, hopefully he carries on making films in that mold.

  2. Sounds good. I’ve been meaning to ask, but none of the recent reviews seemed like a good seque way, but did you see MOON when it was out, Vern? From the sound of it, this film has a few things in common. Moon’s also got a twist you can figure out before the reveal, but it actually comes out with it pretty early on and deals with the consequences of it. Rockwell’s character*SPOILER*(s)*END SPOILER*’s in the dark about something too, and it gets to them and makes them paranoid. It’s also fairly low budget, and is mostly practical-effects driven rather than CGI. You can tell it’s models they’re using for the exterior shots, and it’s fine. The score’s also very low key and just creates the sense of things being a bit eerie and desolate.

  3. drunk as i get, i have never woken up married to lauren german. who can i complain to about this.

  4. Nice call on DETOUR, GoodBadGroovy. It’s not just that DETOUR is better than you think the budget would allow, it’s that the low budget actually improves the film. It’s the cheap footage, the poor quality of the prints, the sometimes stilted acting, the logical flaws and the weird mistakes and errors that give the movie such a unique, gritty quality to it. And not in a “so bad it’s good” way, rather in a way that fits and benefit the film.

    Given that you enjoy crime movies a lot, Vern, is there any chance we could see you review some old film noirs? (Films noir?) DETOUR would be a great place to start, I think you might enjoy its aesthetic and its underdog charm.

  5. Dan-

    film noir, films noir, film noirs and films noirs(?) are apparantly all fine ways of pluralising it according to this book i read for my dissertation. Though personally i go with films noir.

    And I completely agree about the budget improving the film. I love the scenes in NY that are just smoke filled streets to hide the fact they obviously couldn’t film anything that looked convincingly like NY. But it adds so much, creating this dream like quality, or linking to the idea of his memories being faded – he remembers the conversation but the rest is foggy etc.

    Great film. Along with Scarlet Street and Double Indemnity it’s my favourite noir.

  6. I recall enjoying SCARLET STREET, but not thinking it was one of the better Lang films I had seen. Perhaps I should give it another chance.

    And if we’re talking favorites, I’d like to submit OUT OF THE PAST and THE MALTESE FALCON.

  7. Stu – did I not post a review of Moon? I know I was working on one in one of my notebooks here. I’ll find it.

  8. Dan – In the UK Out Of The Past is called Build My Gallows High – which is perhaps a unique instance where both the US and International titles are equally awesome.

  9. telf,

    I think I knew that BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH was the name of the story it was based on, and Mitchum even says the line in the movie, but I didn’t know that it was the UK title. BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH might even be a cooler title in a lot of ways, but there’s something about the iconicness of the title OUT OF THE PAST that fits perfectly. It sounds mysterious and timeless, something you could imagine is an all time classic. BMGH sounds more like a cult classic or lost treasure.

    If that makes any sense.

  10. Yeah, if I had to choose I’d go with Out Of The Past – so evocative and mythic.
    When we studied it at Uni we had a very pretentious lecturer introduce it as THE noir. She said that when any true noir expert hears the title Out Of The Past, they would/should exclaim “Now, that’s Noir!”. So we settled in to watch it in the lecture/screening room, and there was a protracted segment of black before the film began. To which my mate John declared: “Now, that’s NOIR!” – pretty much reducing us all to tears.

    Guess you had to be there. Ultimately she was right though – it’s some serious noir.

  11. Hey what gives? Shouldn’t this title already be reserved for the subtitle of UNDER SIEGE 3?

    Thanks for the review, Vern. Wouldn’t have heard about this thing but now Im really looking forward to seeing it. Guess Tom Jane finally gave up on Hollywood finding him any good roles and just decided to make some himself. Are you paying attention, Henry Rollins?

  12. thanks for the heads up on this one. sounds almost like a Coen Bros. i’ll hunt it down. Tom Jane is pretty underrated sometimes.

  13. Vern-I was wondering if you did, and I just skipped it because it hadn’t came out here yet and I was avoiding spoilers, but there’s nothing on it under Science Fiction and Space Shit.

  14. Mr. S – Rollins has a cool role in the new series of Sons of Anarchy – worth watching out for.

  15. telf — yeah I saw some trailers with him in it. Ron Perlman vs Henry Rollins? Fuckin A. Guess I’ll have to watch.

    Have you seen The Henry Rollins Show? Its on sporatically but its kind of freakin amazing.

  16. Noir (anti)heroes = the original movie badasses

  17. Yeah – I love it. He’s a really good interviewer, and I love his “Letters to…”. I met him a couple of years ago at a Ramones thing and it was one of the few times I’ve been genuinely star-struck. A friend of mine is working on SOA and had nothing but praise for Henry. If you can (or haven’t already) try and track down the biography “Turned On” – it’s excellent.

  18. Can someone tell me why Lauren German isn’t getting more roles?

    Say what you want about Hostel 2, but she really did make me pay attention in that film: Gorgeus, cool, classy, excellent actress, and had a commanding screen presence. She’s a kind of gal whom both girls and boys can admire. I completely expected her to start headlining lower-budget horror movies at least, because the girl was BORN to be a star in movies like that, but nothing happened.

    I guess because Hostel 2 flopped, studios around Hollywood thought it was somehow mystically German’s fault.

    Well, at least Thomas Jane was smart enough to see something in her.

    This films sounds great and right up my alley. Thanks for the heads-up, Vern!

  19. I actually thought Hostel 2 was way better than the first one, and German definitely had something to do with that. She was a much stronger central presence than Whatshisdick from Hostel 1. I also think the second one is better because it has more of a classy giallo feel than a twitchy J-horror feel. And that shit with the beeper like you get at TGIFridays was fucking brilliant. Fuck it, I like Eli Roth. I think he’s got a horror classic in him somewhere.

  20. Ditto that HOSTEL PART 2 is an improvement on the original. Not only does it excise a lot of the tiresome fratboy humor from the original, it also cleverly plays with the audience’s expectations and, in the finale, I think it makes a statement about the uses of violence in horror movies and tries to rebuke critics for labeling it torture porn.

    Also, German is cute and way more tolerable than that fucking “king of the swing” guy from the original.

  21. When Lost Highway first came out and I saw the poster I anticipated a movie that is exactly what Dark Country is. Of course, lost highway is nothing like that but it was weird to see my wrong assumption actually exist in movie form.

    Lauren German is amazing. Loved her in Hostel 2.
    That spam post from “protein” right over mine annoys me disproportionately.

  22. I watched this last night and was thinking it was kind of like Lost Highway if that had actually stuck to being on the highway. They’re not the most dissimilar films ever.

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