Great character actors are a hard commodity to find these days, and even harder to find in vehicles that actually have the gusto to tap these lesser known names as the full on leads. However, as we start to see the world of VOD and digital distribution forever change the complexion of what, and in the case of these actors who, is considered bankable to the general public, this is beginning to be less and less the name of the game.
Take the new film Whitewash for example. Best known for various turns in a handful of intriguing and gut busting indie comedies (and even a few “blockbusters” like the live action George Of The Jungle film) Thomas Haden Church stars here as Bruce, a man with a rather colored history. A snowplow driver banned from his vehicle due to a recent DWI, the man is introduced to the viewer in an opening scene that is rather telling of the film as a whole. Darkly comic in the most bleak of ways, we see our lead freshly down a flask-worth of something intoxicating, speed through a snowy street in his plow and directly take out a lowly pedestrian simply minding his own business. Burying the body and ultimately getting his plow stuck in a wooded area, Bruce’s story is one that we follow thanks to what appears to be a series of flashbacks narrated by the man himself.
At its very best, Whitewash is a shockingly entrancing black comedy, the likes of which you truly don’t see very often in today’s film landscape. The film launches us into a frigid world of pitch black chuckles thanks to the previously mentioned, rather shocking, opening sequence, and the series of flashbacks only add to the film’s overall sense of dread and startlingly dry humor. We are introduced to the man that had his life taken by our lead, a former “friend” of Bruce’s, a charming but absolutely sleazy scumbag of a sycophant, and he and Bruce’s chemistry is a tad chilly, but is so bewilderingly dry that it milks every drop of sarcastic humor out of each word. The script here is a tad cliche, as it’s not much more than your typical character study save for the inspired bit of structural playfulness, but when it allows itself to drown in its sense of humor, the film really elevates above what its premise should ever allow it to.
Performance wise, the film is equally superb. Church is great here, as usual, mixing the film’s sense of humor with his own world weariness and demanding physical performance into an entrancing bit of dramatic acting. Marc Labreche co-stars here, and steals absolutely ever seen he’s a part of, giving the film its most broad, but effective, comedic heart. This is where the film seemingly falls apart however. Save for the demand brought to the film by Church’s performance and his character’s physical plight, the film is almost void of any sense of real or raw drama. Instead, the comedy comes through absolutely spot on, leaving the viewer to find the real core to hook on to emotionally. A rather intriguing look at a man unsure whether or not to keep fighting or if the fight he’s put up is even worth it, the film should have much more depth emotionally than it shows currently, instead offering up no real sense of importance or urgency to any of the proceedings. Be it the opening bit of violence or a run in with a father whose daughter our lead scared while trying to get warm, the film should have a bit more tension to it, but instead feels about as urgent dramatically as any run of the mill chuckle-fest that you’ll find anywhere in the film world.
Thankfully, the film is more than worth the watch aesthetically. As dry and icy visually as the film is narratively, there are very few directorial flourishes here, but director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais is so assured in his mixture of tones and moods that the film is very much akin to any great black comedy. Plaintively shot and lavishly photographed, the film is chilly and keeps the viewer at arm’s length, as hinted by the opening sequence, where from a distance, we simply see our lead hit a man with his plow, in a matter of fact manner that isn’t too far off from much of today’s world cinema scene. The film’s final act or closer to its final half, particularly after Bruce end’s something in Paul’s life, really opens things up a tad emotionally and aesthetically, but for the most part this is a bitterly stayed and static motion picture, something truly unlike anything we’re going to see this Spring and Summer.
With blockbuster season set to jump into full swing this weekend with a certain webhead’s return to the big screen, this small scale independent black comedy is a far cry from anything we’re bound to see for months. A perfect watch for a rainy weekend evening, Whitewash isn’t the most emotionally deft motion picture to come across your screen, but it is most certainly one of the more aesthetically entrancing and a true blue throwback to bitter black comedies.
Whitewash is currently available from Oscilloscope Laboratories on all premium digital platforms, including iTunes (athttps://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/id853831870), Amazon, and XBOX Live.