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by Jack Sommersby

"A Gifted Filmmaker Takes a Dive"
2 stars

It says something when the usually-unappealing Josh Brolin is the best reason to see a movie.

Is external conflict absolutely necessary in a tale of fiction, I asked myself during writer/director Victor Nunez's two previous films, Ruby in Paradise and Ulee's Gold, for it seemed they were playing out perfectly fine until an antagonist was introduced into the equation and the up-until-then focus shifted from the textured dailiness of the heroine/hero's lives and onto the egregious goings-on related to the conflict. In Ruby in Paradise, Ashley Judd starred as a young Tennessee woman fleeing an unsatisfying existence and starting anew in a small Florida coastal town; that is, until the impudent son of her new employer, who she became romantically involved with, started complicating her life. In Ulee's Gold, Peter Fonda played a lonely, widowed Florida honey-maker whose docile existence was temporarily enlivened with the arrival of his estranged son only for the son's past criminal associates to start permeating the proceedings. A shame, really, because Judd and Fonda delivered career-best work, and Nunez displayed a keen understanding of lower-working-class milieu not rivaled since the late Martin Ritt. Outstanding set-ups and contrivance-laden follow-throughs Nunez served up, and in his latest, Coastlines, he doesn't even get the set-up right. Timothy Olyphant stars as Sonny Mann, who returns to his Florida hometown after serving three years in prison; he's gotten out a year early due to overcrowding and starts staying with his fisherman father in the family's run-down house. We don't know why exactly Sonny went to prison, but the day after his release he pays a visit to the town bigwig, Fred Vance (William Forsythe), a wealthy yacht-club owner whose real money comes from high-end drug trafficking; Sonny used to work for him and refused to name him to the police for a lighter sentence. Sonny is owed two-hundred-thousand dollars, but Fred insists it'll take some time to gather that amount in loose cash since he didn't expect Sonny to be released so early; Fred offers Sonny the opportunity to use that money to invest in an upcoming criminal venture that will double that money, but Sonny, intent on leading a straight life, refuses. Encouraging him to remain clean is the deputy sheriff Dave Lockhart (Josh Brolin), a boyhood friend who used to raise hell with Sonny but now leads a stable home life with his wife and two young children; there's an unmistakable attraction between Sonny and Dave's wife Ann (Sarah Wynter), who went to high school with the two -- she, frustrated with her domestic normality, is still drawn to Sonny's still-rebellious nature; and when Sonny temporarily moves in with the Lockharts after his father's house is blown up by Fred's underworld associates, a long-dormant passion is unleashed.

Coastlines is part romance, part crime thriller, with neither aspect interestingly developed. There's Sonny's thirst for revenge and Dave's frustration with his boss's insistence that there isn't enough evidence to connect Fred to the crime, both of which are old-hat story mechanisms we've seen countless times before. (Poor Josh Lucas, who played Judd's nemesis in Ruby in Paradise, has been cast as Fred's temperamental nephew and is as one-dimensionally sleazy as he was there.) It's not clear why Sonny partakes in a dangerous scheme to do in the Vances late in the game when his well-armed self could've taken them both out much earlier and with considerable less risk. And though Dave insists the FBI is becoming involved, nothing of it's followed through on. Clearly, Nunez doesn't have anything invested in any of this -- they're mere happenstances to propel the movie along and so it can be "about" something, thus indicative of a filmmaker insecure with his own shaky material. And the love triangle isn't any better rendered. Don't blame the three leads, who impart as much dramatic truth onto their roles as they can hold (though Olyphant, while initially intriguing, eventually starts serving up more in the way of movie-star poses than concentrated acting); it's just that they're at a constant disadvantage in being expected to lend substance to characters so second-hand that hardly anything they say or do rings true. Ann's marital dissatisfaction comes out of nowhere, and the torrid love affair between her and Sonny leads in all the predictable directions (plus, we're supposed to believe that their affair could be kept secret in such a small town). It's been five years since Ulee's Gold, and Nunez hasn't come up with anything fresh. Coastlines is a miasma of his previous works minus the observation and depth -- you don't take any of it out of the theatre with you. Nunez can still locate the emotional impetus in a scene, but since the emotions are so obvious and italicized, this doesn't rank as the most challenging of tasks; and his visual sense, which had steadily grown, has regressed to a primordial state -- the compositions and imagery are TV-bland routine. Even Nunez's usual uncanny feel for small-town Florida life deserts him here: the story isn't organically tied to its central setting; it could be taking place in any beach town. (Nunez, a native Floridian, makes his home and teaches film school there.) A poorly staged fiery action conclusion, a far-too-neat final wrap-up, barely functional dialogue that at times is awfully metaphorical. Have Nunez's creative juices completely frozen up, or was he knowingly catering to a mainstream audience with all this formulaic patchwork? The only valid confliction at hand here is ours for Nunez and this David Gordon Green/Undertow-like rubbish.

Best to watch Nunez's other works.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14573&reviewer=327
originally posted: 04/14/14 18:42:41
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  31-May-2006 (R)
  DVD: 06-Feb-2007



Directed by
  Victor Nunez

Written by
  Victor Nunez

  Timothy Olyphant
  Josh Brolin
  Angela Bettis
  Sarah Wynter
  William Forsythe

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