James Reviews Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais’ Whitewash [Tribeca Film Festival 2013 Review]

Every time I see Thomas Haden Church is in a film, it brings a smile to my face. He tends to be a bright spot, no matter the film. Imagine my surprise when I realized, while watching Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais’s Whitewash (his feature debut), that it was almost a solo effort from the actor. Also a darkly comic and sad tale weaves its ugly head from the moment the film opens up with what appears to be an accidental death he causes while driving in a snowstorm. It’s the ensuing 90 minutes that gives us a look at a man who has lost everything and truly doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Church plays Bruce, a down on his luck, alcoholic, widower who because of his drinking has been banned for 3 years from driving his plow, his only source of income. We’re told the film’s plot in the present day with Bruce attempting to wipe away his tracks, crashing his plow in the middle of the forest of French Canada, hiding out and slowly going mad. He’s drinking water from melting snow, licking a paper plate for the salt intake and attempting to find civilization. When he finds a small truck stop, it’s perfect to get some food and gasoline for his plow. First to try to get it out of the snow but then to keep it on so the heat keeps on running.

We also see how he got to this point in the first place with flashbacks, with interesting twists and turns to flesh out this mystery. One day he’s at a neighborhood shop, where he notices a car that’s running with a tube connecting to the driver’s side window, where he sees someone sitting there. His name is Paul (Marc Labrèche) and he’s attempting to kill himself. Bruce won’t let it happen and somehow convinces Paul to come with him back to his place for a beer. Paul is not all that he appears to be, prying into Bruce’s life and wondering how much the doll’s eyes his late wife created could be sold for. When we hear he owes some leg breakers money (15 grand), we start to see Paul’s true intent. When Paul is caught red handed one night when Bruce comes home, he’s on the run and we as the audience have pieced it all together by this point and understand how Bruce got there in the first place.

Whitewash almost feels like a solo version of Waiting For Godot, where Bruce is just waiting for something, anything to give his life meaning. He’s a loner who likes to drink, so when he saves Paul’s life, it seems like things are looking up. When Paul betrays him and we come to what was shown in the beginning of the film, Bruce is both lost and never been so free before. It’s almost like a chosen hell, where he keeps going back to the plow in order to take his just desserts, and the film’s darkly comical script and Thomas Haden Church’s spectacular performance makes this a film that I couldn’t tell where it was going to go next.

Sometimes waking up a little bit late and missing your first intended press screening is a blessing in disguise because you get to see something much different than you expected and what you didn’t expect at all. This is the case with Whitewash, starring the amazing Thomas Haden Church, who continues to impress and outperform most other actors of his age. Considering we start the film feeling disdain for his character and by the end we feel sorry for him shows the power of his performance. This is one to definitely watch out for in the months to come.