★★★ / ★★★★
Writer-director Christopher Smith takes elements of classic noir pictures and modernizes it in his clever, sometimes exciting, thriller “Detour,” about a law student named Harper (Tye Sheridan) who finds himself embroiled in a murder after becoming convinced that his stepfather (Stephen Moyer) has planned his mother’s car accident which resulted to her ending up in a coma. Although the film might have improved by undergoing more polishing, it remains consistently entertaining as it gives way for us to reevaluate its characters just when we are convinced we completely understand the archetypes they embody.
One of its more intelligent choices involves the story being split into two. While out drowning his sorrows in booze, Harper meets Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen), a thug who does certain… favors—for a fee. Our protagonist shares his thoughts of wanting to teach his stepfather a lesson. Notice how the camera inches closer to the characters’ faces as the decision on whether or not to kill the husband under suspicion grows ever closer between the two young men. The next morning, Johnny Ray shows up on Harper’s front door. We then follow two strands: 1) Harper joining Johnny Ray as they head to Vegas to carry out their plans and 2) Harper turning down Johnny Ray’s offer and deciding to stay home.
The dialogue almost always commands a sharpness to it. It can be described as Tarantino-lite in that attitude slowly bubbles to a boil from underneath the surface. Even when a character shifts on his seat while saying nothing actually says something. An observation I have about movies aimed toward modern audiences is that its characters tend to lack ways of communicating other than through words. Here, silence and body language are utilized to get the audience to consider that perhaps a character, or characters, is planning a course of action outside of what has been decided already.
Although its look is nothing special, there are instances where bright colors are employed to make certain objects stand out. For instance, Harper’s yellow-cream jacket, the flowery red designs on Cherry’s shorts (Bel Powley), the sudden patch of yellow hair after Paul (Jared Abrahamson), Harper’s best friend, spends the weekend dropping acid. It would have added a layer of detail if each character sported a certain color, a way for us to cull information about these characters or what role they may end up playing in the story. Providing deep substance is not the screenplay’s strong suit.
Neo-noir “Detour” is stylish, energetic, and it moves like lightning. Although the writing could have done a better job in smoothing out details once certain story aspects are unveiled, nearly every performance is highly watchable and the control from behind the camera creates a level of engaging tension despite the picture’s sunny desert look.