The Frontier (2015)
Directed by Oren Shai
Written by Oren Shai, Webb Wilcoxen
Produced by Dana Lustig, Mark Smirnoff, Tal Fiala, Elric Kane, Stephen Harrison, Moshe Barkat, Pirchia Rechter, Dari Shai, Haim Slutzky, Dustin Cook
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Kelly Lynch, A.J. Bowen, Jamie Harris, Izabella Miko, Jim Beaver, Liam Aiken
She’s yet to put enough miles between herself and a homicide in Flagstaff when a drifter (Donahue) stops at a rundown diner and motel for a meal and overnight lodging, only to find that its proprietress (Lynch) and patrons (Harris, Miko, Beaver, Aiken) are soon to be recipients of over $1.7M in cash laundered from a recent heist. Their mercenary commonalities and continual visits by an obtrusive policeman (Bowen) complicate her designs on the money and a clean escape.
Motivations are stultified and their promising story’s second act is bogged by Shai’s and Wilcoxen’s drippy, dispensable exposition, which temporarily reduces a hard-boiled crime thriller to a cheap costume drama. Had so much background been alluded rather than dilated, and the plot enhanced with twice as many twists, they would’ve written a winner.
His conduct is slick if unambitious: Shai shoots action and dramatics with equal facility, and prudently interposes between both direful, often speechless close-ups and slow zooms, mostly of Donahue.
If at all, Jay Keitel may be known to viewers of independent cinema as Amy Seimetz’s preferred DP. Diurnal scenes are gorgeously enriched though his lucent lenses, but by night, he’s manifestly affected by a nyctophobia plaguing so many in his trade. No harvest moon’s as fulgent as this movie’s nocturnal lighting.
Worn postwar furnishings and appliances salvaged and fabricated for Taylor Jean’s and Steve Morden’s set design, Yasmine Abraham’s perfectly selected and lightly distressed costumery, hairstyling courtesy of Emilio Uribe, and every other artifact of Lindsey Moran’s production design — driver’s licenses, matchbooks, photographs, suitcases, purses, bottles, mugs and more — replicate the mass-produced fashions of the ’70s. Irrespective of budget, few pictures set during this era look so verisimilar, largely because the aforementioned grasp its grime.
Hers could be the face and presence in a thousand last known photos of doomed and endangered beauties circa ’72-’84, so the niche that Donahue’s occupied since The House of the Devil is scarcely shared. She makes the best of her sly miss with chilly charm, unostentatiously easy expressivity, and a sensitivity which may convince your amygdala that she’s really rolling with so many punches. By contrast, indie regular Bowen (her assailant in House) has defied typecasting in a sweep of roles to varied results; here, he looks a southwestern part that he plays well, but his inauthenticity’s betrayed by a gentle voice. Harris enlivens most of his scenes as a friendly fop in his father’s footsteps, but Miko doesn’t flesh his bleached, bubbleheaded wife with such gratification. Perhaps the worst personation of Lynch’s career can be witnessed here, as she gratuitously overacts her every single line, mien and motion. Beaver’s brutish career criminal and Aiken’s antsy abettor are shallow figures energetically realized by their seasoned character actors.
At its barest instrumentation in a minor key — guitar, horns, underlying strings — Ali Helnwein’s score is resonant of its place and period. It turns mushy with the inclusion of flutes, then musty when electric guitars and staccato strings are employed.
Donahue’s pitch- and picture-perfect in every scene, whether evincing trauma and trouble, or trading pleasantries with Harris.
- The movie’s midpoint slows to crawl through tawdry tales of woe involving Jack Warner worsened by Lynch’s awful acting.
- In a regressive episode immediate to bloody gunplay, Lynch’s bygone starlet recites lines from an unrealized production à la Norma Desmond to embarrass everyone watching.
If this were as good as it looks or as exciting as its promotional campaign implied, it would probably be some sort of cult classic by now. Regrettably, too much is said and too little done in an expertly staged but underwhelming production.