If you're looking for a feel-good type movie this isn't it. However, if
you can get into a very gritty, at times grim film, that has excellent
acting and believable characters then this indie might be worth a
watch. Set in the 1970's North Carolina Appalachia country (the
cinematography is superb), Noah Wylie stars as Leonard, once an
Illinois school teacher, but now a small time drug dealer and Civil War
buff, living in a trailer with the sexy Dena. Minka Kelly very ably
portrays Dena, a drug addict with zero self esteem, who appears to be
living comfortably with Leonard, but when the drugs run out, will sell
herself and her body to whomever can supply the next fix.
Jeremy Irvine also gives a strong performance, as Travis, a lost soul
seemingly going nowhere with his life, who will end up staying with
Leonard and Dena, after his abusive SOB father (Alex Van) doesn't want
him to return to their home. Despite being a school dropout, Travis is
a voracious reader, and becomes quite interested in Leonard's Civil War
books, and they will begin to bond with their common interest.
One central theme of the movie will be the so-called Shelton Laurel
Massacre, in 1863, where Travis learns that several of his kin were
accused of Unionism during the Civil War, and killed by a firing squad
made up of a local Confederate regiment. They'll be some key surprises
revealed as the film progresses, regarding both Leonard and Travis's
relatives and the massacre over 100 years before.
Much of the tension and drama will revolve around Leonard's low-life
drug dealing neighbors, the brothers Carlton and Hubert. I thought
Steve Earle was exceptional in the role of the older brother Carlton,
and Marcus Hester also does well as Hubert. Also, Adelaide Clemens (who
reminded me so much in appearance and mannerisms like Michelle
Williams) adds well to the mix as Lori, a nurse and possible love
interest for Travis. The involvement of these characters together will
eventually provide a most combustible situation and lead to quite the
tragic and gloomy finale, but offering a ray of hope for some of them.
David Burris does a most credible job here with directing, from a solid
screenplay from Shane Danielsen, based on the novel by Ron Rash.
All in all, this gritty indie will probably only appeal to a certain
audience, but I found it engaging throughout with it's believable
characters. To be honest, I wasn't thrilled with the rather ambiguous
ending, but I felt the overall strength of the story was enough to
outweigh that aspect.