RLJE pictures has made a name for itself as a powerhouse presence in the world of video-on-demand cult films. This year was Mandy, a movie that sharply divided myself and MFJ writer Mitch Ringenberg, and Craig T. Zahler’s Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Last year it was Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99, and before it, his popular Bone Tomahawk. I Kill Giants was one they produced, too. So most of their movies are of a kind: violent, creative and ripe for a cult following among the predominantly male culture of film critics.
Galveston is pretty much in line with those previous releases except it’s not good enough to develop a cult following. Despite its tremendous pedigree — directed by actress / director Mélanie Laurent and starring Elle Fanning and Ben Foster — it only ever feels mean, angry and aimlessly nasty. It has the sensibilities of noir fan-fiction that never comes from a place of genuine pain. No surprise, I guess, that it is based off a moderately well-received debut novel by Nic Pizzolatto (most famously known for the first season of True Detective, most infamously known for the second season of True Detective.
The story is about a hitman named Roy (Foster) who manages to pick up a teen prostitute, Rocky (Fanning), of whom he becomes protective. Rocky has a little sister who she brings on the run with them. Roy has terminal cancer and is rethinking his life while eluding the criminals who want him dead.
Angry guy with a free pass to commit heinous acts of violence. A teen prostitute who he brings with him and who helps understand his humanity. Random shooting scenes. Lots of cursing, yelling and general anger. Roy’s attempt to reconnect with an old flame who rejects him. An odd flash-forward ending where a withering husk of a man decides to let nature take him rather than truly atone for his sins.
It’s all here — every single cliché you could ever want from a crime script and it all feels like posturing. Foster and Fanning have a hard time ever disappointing me, and they do not do so here. Laurent’s cinematic eye and sensibilities do as much heavy lifting as they can, but the script is just so basic. It’s a drag, a dirge, and I can’t heartily recommend it even to fans of these performers or modern crime films.
Without spoiling the storyline, one major character is dispatched in such a graphically depressing manner, particularly given their storyline, that it feels downright gleeful. The method of their demise so conflicts with the demands of the story they’re given that it feels troubling and amateurish. To shock and appall audiences for the sake of crafting a memorable or challenging movie is one thing. This is not that thing.
It’s a pity that with so many elements working in its favor in front of or behind the camera, Galveston never feels like much more than Pizzolatto parading out his favorite elements of crime novels he has read and to which he aspires. The reason the first season of True Detective was so popular was that the underlying mystery mixed genres to create a hybrid horror-police mystery; the reason the second season sucked is that it was clear Pizzolatto didn’t understand that’s why everyone loved the first season. Galveston was written before either of those and feels like a relic from an early writer who had not yet come into his own.
Galveston is available on Blu-ray on December 12.