Director: Mélanie Laurent
Writers: Nic Pizzolatto (as Jim Hammett), Nic Pizzolatto (based upon the novel by)
Stars: Ben Foster, Jeffrey Grover, Christopher Amitrano
Ben Foster has become a silent man in the movies. In films such as Leave No Trace and now Galveston, a new film, he has disguised pain and grief under a veneer of stoicism. He is proving to be a terrific actor whose gifts of understatement are worth more than a million smiles offered by other actors of his generation.
Galveston, directed by Melanie Laurent, her first English language feature, is a perfect dramatic vehicle for Foster. He plays a gruff hitman called Roy whose quest for revenge is blighted after he inadvertently rescues a young teen-tearaway during a botched hit-job, orchestrated by his boss, Beau Bridges. Roy flees to his hometown of Galveston to tie up the loose ends of his life. Elle Fanning plays the teen, a girl who has learned to live a lie but soon loses the will to maintain the deception that has helped her through a difficult life.
The trouble for Roy is that he appears to be dying of a respiratory illness. All his actions seem to be in service of leaving behind a good legacy, or at least some decency to his name. But all the while his crime connections drag him down and tie him to his past deeds. Along the way he meets up with an old lover, one who he was less than kind to. There is a cloud of death and despair that hangs over the character’s lives, but the film is not totally morbid. I enjoyed the scenes of respite between Foster and Fanning. They dance aimlessly at a club and drive with the wind through their hair. These small moments seem to buoy their spirits before the hoodlums draw closer.
Laurent directs the film in a robust fashion intercut with scenes of shouty melodrama that offset the rhythm and tone of the film. But I do admire much of the work. The film is a mood piece and the moods go a long way to delineating the character’s personalities and shortcomings. It’s clear that Laurent found a lot of empathetic material in the script and it’s a story she obviously cares about. There is one lengthy sequence where a battered and bruised Foster escapes capture in a car. There is blood, sweat and plenty of skidmarks. It’s a brilliantly conceived set-piece. Later, a secret is revealed by Fanning that threatens to capsize the dramatic weightiness of the film but it is a twist that worked for me and felt real in the context of the story.
Galveston is an uneven film with moments of intensity and desperation sandwiched between slower passages prone to ponderousness and the odd gesture overdone in nature. I enjoyed and admire the film for its strengths, so much to the point that I can forgive its faults. I expect Laurent to improve in her next features, movies that are worth waiting for.