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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 31.58%
Just Average52.63%
Pretty Crappy: 10.53%
Sucks: 5.26%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Kristofferson's best work since 'Lone Star'."
3 stars

The difference between the trailer for "Disappearances" that played in front of every movie the Brattle played for the past month and the one that appears on the film's website is instructive - the trailer on the website is far more representative of the actual film, but the newer one that shows up in theaters sells the movie better: It cuts out most of the mystical elements, focusing tightly on the action-movie elements and playing up Kris Kristofferson's performance. It's a shame Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven didn't realize this during the actual making of the film.

The story, like many of Craven's other films, is taken from a Howard Frank Mosher novel about the people of Kingdom County, Vermont. The central focus is on "Wild Bill" Bonhomme (Charlie McDermott), the 16-year-old son of "Quebec Bill" Bonhomme, a retired bootlegger who is drawn back into the business when his barn (and the alfalfa in it) burns down during a Prohibition winter, necessitating some quick money. His mother (Heather Rae) objects, especially when Quebec Bill suggests their son accompany him on this "scouting mission", but Quebec Bill's sister Cordelia (Genevieve Bujold) convinces her that it's in the Bonhomme bloodline and young Bill should at least see it. So father and son head north in a boat, where they'll meet up with Quebec Bill's brother-in-law Henry (Gary Farmer) and Rat Kinneson (William Sanderson), an escaped con who works at their farm. The job looks bad on the face of it, and when the Bonhommes encounter the man they intend to steal the whiskey from - a demonic-looking amnesiac calling himself Carcajou (Lothaire Bluteau) - things quickly go straight to hell.

There's the makings of a strong "northeastern western" there, but that description omits a few things. Mainly, what it leaves out is the mystical elements tied up in Bujold's Cordelia - she makes predictions about the future, talks about how the men in their family tend to disappear, appears to Wild Bill to deliver cryptic messages, and just generally acts weird. Ms. Bujold does a generally very good job with the part: Cordelia is meant to be spooky and eccentric, and the trouble is never that we don't believe in her; it's that she's just a crazy old woman who initially seems to be serving no purpose other than to distract from what could be some good, pulpy crime. When the mystical stuff does start to have some relevance, it doesn't add a whole lot to the story (indeed, the first "disappearance" we see feels like a gigantic rip-off).

The crime and adventure angles work a lot better. Sure, the fact that there's much of a chase at all seems to be due to a certain amount of idiot plotting - the Bonhomme gang doesn't seem to have a really good reason for waiting until they're most likely to be discovered before stealing Carcajou's liquor - but once things get started, Carcajou is a great, relentless villain. He dogs the Bonhommes and company on land, water, and on a train, a barely-human force of nature by look and action. The stuntwork and staging is pretty good for an indie with budget just a little bit north of a million and a half shot in Vermont's north country with period vehicles. Sometimes Craven promises more than he can deliver - that budget can't buy much of a train wreck - but more often than not he comes through.

The cast of characters is worth watching, too. Gary Farmer is a good-natured giant of a man as Henry, too smart to get involved in Quebec Bill's scheme and too concerned about his family not to. Sanderson has the look of a "Rat" and the nervous nature to match. Heather Rae's role is small, but genuine. Luis Guzman briefly (and amusingly) appears as a whiskey-smuggling monk. Wild Bill is our viewpoint character, and Charlie McDermott does a fair enough job of providing the audience with an anchor. He's not perfect; he never makes the name Wild Bill seem either fitting or terribly ironic. We can see the character maturing during this coming-of-age trial by fire; he visibly gains strength as he spends most of the movie's last act paired with Kris Kristofferson.

Good thing, too, because Kristofferson could easily make the viewer forget that there are other people in the movie when he's on screen. It's likely his best part since Lone Star, a part so good that he fought to make sure that the movie got made, staying attached for years and holding benefit concerts when investors fell through. He's warm, giving Quebec Bill a mischievous smile and a devil-may-care attitude. He's too old to worry about much of anything, and because of this he's maybe a little too confident in everyone's abilities. He's the kind of guy who can be stubborn and unyielding, but most people will either never realize or will forgive him for it because of his cheerful, sometimes almost childlike delight at the world around him. And yet, amid all that, it is possible to believe he was a successful smuggler, because he's so lacking in angst that when things turn bad, he'll just deal with it in as decisive a way as is necessary and move on.

Or at least, that's how Wild Bill sees him. That's the heart of the film, and those scenes between McDermott and Kristofferson are little bits of gold. It's too bad the filmmaker didn't realize what the good parts were from the start, because there's the raw material for a good film from an unlikely place here.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13978&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/12/07 22:01:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/21/11 mr.mike Engrossing drama that goes off the rails toward the end. 3 stars
1/03/09 Lindsey strange...i'm still trying to completely figure it out... 3 stars
8/10/07 George Good acting trapped in a confusing mess of a film. 2 stars
5/07/07 Virginia Chen This movie did not live up to its A rating by Yahoo. 1 stars
10/09/06 Ray Larsen Kris is pretty good in this, and the kid is too, but the story is ludicrous and the script 2 stars
4/13/06 Bennett Knowles Some nice acting in a weirdly overwrought story 3 stars
4/04/06 Rosa Great Story 3 stars
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