“SWEET VIRGINIA” follows a former rodeo champion who unknowingly befriends a stranger that is responsible for the violence that has struck his small town. Jon Bernthal headlines this moody drama along with Rosemarie DeWitt, Imogen Poots and Christopher Abbot.
This was at times, a subtly tense thriller that focused more on the drama, with an effective result. But it was also a film that spent a good amount of time circling around itself with little progression. It felt like the idea for the plot and the closing moments were locked in with certainty. But how to fill the run-time, seemed to be the unknown. Because it introduces some characters and explores their dynamics outside of the focal plot-line, but does not advance their arcs, or give reason to why these scenes are important, or needed. Something that in the end, simply felt like filler to me.
I did enjoy this movie for the most part, but it was admittedly underwhelming. It built some tension, then killed the tension right after with character interactions that didn’t have necessity or relevance. It repeated this process throughout the slow pace. Giving us scenes that didn’t tell us much about the characters that we didn’t already know. The script weaves these scenes in between the few that were important to developing the plot, and it hindered the momentum this premise could have created.
Which is unfortunate because the performances all were solid for their needs. Bernthal was good, he didn’t thrive in this role however. It felt familiar to other personas he has played before. But his worn-out, unenthusiastic delivery did work for this character. Bernthal and Abbott (who plays the mysterious drifter) do share some strong scenes together with some uneasy conversations that create genuine intrigue. And these moments were the bright-spots of this movie in my opinion.
Rosemarie DeWitt was serviceable as well. But with her minimal development in the story, the character was not really needed as she has no real impact on the plot. Christopher Abbott was very good as this drifter, which was another unfortunate positive for this film. With some added substance to his character, and a little more screen-time, he could have easily pulled off the ominous, foreboding personality the film was intending on. Instead he gives glimpses of it but in the end, does feel restrained in his performance.
The settings and locations were all perfect for a moody thriller. The camerawork was also nicely done to give this story the cold dreary backdrop it needed. But without enough meat to the story, there isn’t enough to grab on to. It was difficult to connect with the characters, so in turn, it was not easy to build interest in how the story would end for them. I love this genre and there were strong elements in this films corner for it to be a success. But a lack of depth in the writing hindered any ability to feel a strong vested connection, resulting in a lack of intrigue overall.