The grim crime film from director Rod Blackhurst Blood for dust is nothing new under the sun – or rather, the frigid sun of Wyoming and Montana, where the story takes place. But with an array of polished, lived-in performances from a strong cast and an underlying level of suspense punctuated by a few gnarly action sequences, it’s certainly a watchable little genre venture that could find an audience, especially on streaming.
Fargo (both the movie and the TV series) immediately comes to mind in this early 90s thriller that feels very much like a product of the early 90s, with plenty of caustic dialogue and bursts of gory violence against a background of Western American desolation. Following a lost salesman, Cliff (Scoot McNairy), who is roped into the illegal drug trade by his tough ex-colleague Ricky (Kit Harington), heads to largely familiar places, but manages to do so in a way that leaves us makes you want to linger for the ride.
Blood for dust
It comes down to
Well executed without breaking new ground.
A bleak opening has a man blowing his brains out in his small office, where he was supposed to meet Cliff and Ricky after hours. We flash forward to a year and a half later, with Cliff now selling defibrillators to medium-sized companies in the West, all the while striving and mostly just not making ends meet. As pointed out in any good modern film noir guide, he eventually ends up alone in a strip club, where he bumps into Ricky, who invites him into a smuggling ring led by a pesky local kingpin (an unchained Josh Lucas).
You don’t have to be a fan of it Fargo or Blood simple or even A simple plan only to learn that things won’t go smoothly for Cliff, who is tasked with driving a station wagon filled with coke or heroin down Montana’s I-90 highway. He’s accompanied by a creepy, silent henchman (Ethan Suplee) who watches him in disturbing ways, while he’s chased by a suspicious pickup truck that shows up in all the places he doesn’t belong.
No need to reveal further the plot – credited to Blackhurst and David Ebeltoft, with the latter scripted – which has a few good twists but also feels predictable, especially in the final act. What makes Blood for dust work is the streamlined filmmaking, as well as McNairy’s sad and slick depiction of a down-and-out nobody who decides that all that pays is crime.
Blackhurst, who has directed true-crime documentaries on both Amanda Knox and John Wayne Gacy, has a keen eye for portraying the bleak details of Cliff’s sad life – the faceless motels he stays in while peddling medical supplies on the road or the people whom he can’t convince to help him, including a vicious cattle auctioneer played compellingly by Stephen Dorff.
Collectively, these details paint a bleak portrait of the Western rural malaise – and, unlike the Coens’ films, one that is devoid of any humour. Harington brings some lightness to the proceedings early on, speaking with an accent so marked by gritty Americana that it seems his character lived entirely on beef jerky. Soon we realize that Ricky, with all his badass charms, isn’t necessarily going to lend Cliff a hand, and it only goes from there.
Beautifully photographed by Justin Derry (Bruiser), which makes the frozen landscapes feel both monumental and lonely, the independent feature makes the most of its modest budget, which was raised by 28 producers and executive producers who blocked all credits. That’s what it takes to fund this kind of small-scale genre photography in the US today Blood for dust breaks new ground in its domain, it should give the talented Blackhurst enough miles to keep making them.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
Production companies: The Avenue, RU Robot Studios, Highland Film Group, Witchcraft Motion Picture Company, Nickel City Pictures, Short Porch Pictures, Bondit Media Capital, Good Wizard Productions, Jaid7 Pictures, Studio 507
Cast: Scoot McNairy, Kit Harington, Josh Lucas, Ethan Suplee, Stephen Dorff, Nora Zehetner, Amber Rose Mason
Directed by: Rod Blackhurst
Screenwriter: David Ebeltoft, story by David Ebeltoft, Rod Blackhurst
Producers: Nathan Klingher, Mark Fasano, Noah Lang, Peter Jakl, Bernard Kira, Bobby Campbell, Arun Kumar, Ryan Winterstern, Ari Novak
Executive Producers: Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, Henry Wintersern, Martin J. Barab, JJ Caruth, Paul W. Hazen, David Gendron, Viviana Zarragoitia, Matthew Helderman, Luke Taylor, Grady Craig, Tyler Gould, David Ebeltoft, Rod Blackhurst, Anthony Standberry, Ford Corbett, Greg Friedman, Angel Campbell, Matthew Alex Goldberg
Director of Photography: Justin Derry
Production Designer: Rob Ebeltoft
Costume Designer: Olivia Perdoch
Editor: Justin Oakey
Composer: Nick Bohun
Sales: Highland Film Group
1 hour 44 minutes