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December 5, 2012

Road to Nowhere

by Franz Patrick

Road to Nowhere (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Director Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan) predicts the story of a senator and his younger mistress as the next big thing in film industry. As the director, he believes that his main responsibility is to cast the right leading lady to play the mistress. After some time of having no luck despite a pool of diverse actresses, the casting agents stumble upon Laurel Graham (Shannyn Sossamon) whose prior and only work is a horror exploitation film. Upon Mitchell and Laurel’s first meeting, she assures him that she is not an actress. Nevertheless, he thinks she fits the character so perfectly, he needs to have her in the movie.

Written by Steven Gaydos and directed by Monte Hellman, “Road to Nowhere” is an edgy and ambitious film within a film but it does not always work. So willing to obfuscate certain plot points to lure its audiences’ curiosities, ultimately it lacks the ability lift the veil so that the audience is allowed to reach a valid and sensible conclusion about what really happened to the murdered North Carolinians. The elements are certainly there. There’s Nathalie Post (Dominique Swain), a blogger who suspects that what is written on the script does not necessarily reflect what happened in actuality. The other is Bruno Brotherton (Waylon Payne), the movie’s regional consultant who feels as though Laurel has something to do with the murders.

Hellman should have allowed us to spend more time with Nathalie and Bruno being investigators. While the director does not have to give us clear-cut answers, he should have handed us all of the pieces required so that we can create a full mental picture of what has possibly transpired and in what order. With such a thick mystery, clarity, along with consistency, should have been what the film worked toward.

Sossamon is very good as a potential femme fatale. I found myself unable turn my eyes away from her whether she is Laurel or the character that Lauren is given to play. Her performance reminded me of Penélope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar’s “Los abrazos rotos”: a calculated performance but comes off natural without sacrificing an air mystique. There are extended sequences when I thought Laurel knows more about the crime than she leads others to believe, but then there are moments when I was convinced she’s just an egocentric actress, that she has invested in the role so much, she could care less if she causes friction between the director and his crew.

I loved the way the movie was shot. I noticed that Hellman uses a camera that allows the actors’ bodies to create a blur when they make sudden movements. It reflects the recurring theme of seeing the film through someone’s dreams. Laurel and Mitchell, while not working on the film, watch movies like Víctor Erice’s “El espíritu de la colmena,” a dream-like coming-of-age picture in which a child meets a wounded Frankenstein-like figure. It shows who Mitchell is without using Laurel as a conduit. His project, the film, is his own Frankenstein. It reveals his fear of failure and desperation to make the project work.


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