Sweet Virginia (CIFF 2017)

Coming to us like a lesser Coen Brothers film, Sweet Virginia takes small-town crime, steeps it in Alaskan air, and then doesn’t do as much with it as one would probably hope. If you’ve seen one of these things, you can probably figure out almost exactly where this one’s going to go. One character needs money and another character has a lot of money—that the first character has seen? I wonder what’s going to happen there. An old-fashioned rifle from WW2 is mentioned, specifically, early on. You can probably figure out what’s going to be pulled out in the climax. It all just feels little too easy.

Sweet Virginia follows Sam (Jon Bernthal), a motel owner in a small Alaskan town. Three men are killed after-hour in a pub, and nobody knows who did it. Coincidentally, a man named Elwood (Christopher Abbott), checked into the motel right around that time. We know Elwood did it, and we shortly learn why. But he befriends Sam. He needs to stick around until he can be paid the money for his hit, anyway. But, soon enough, this house of cards will come crashing down.

As I mentioned, it’s pretty easy to figure out how it’s all going to go down once we learn which pieces are in play. That doesn’t make it a bad movie, but it stops it from being a really good one. It’s got a strong sense of atmosphere, better-than-average characters, and really good performances—it’d be tough for it to be a waste of time. You watch it and wish that it could have been better given all the talent involved. It’s still a decent experience; it just could have been more had it not been so easy to figure out.

Conclusion: Sweet Virginia is a decent small-town crime thriller that doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

Recommendation: If you like these sorts of movies, Sweet Virginia might be worth a shot. If not, it’s not a necessary watch.

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