Saturday 13 February 2021

Movie Review: Galveston (2018)

A slow-burning drama, Galveston is a character study about the faint glimmers of purpose at life's dead ends.

In New Orleans of 1988, chain-smoking Roy Cady (Ben Foster), an enforcer for underground gangster and textile merchant Stan Ptitko (Beau Bridges), has a lung disease but refuses to seek treatment. In a simmering dispute over Carmen (María Valverde), Stan sends Roy into an ambush hoping to get rid of him. But Roy not only survives, he grabs evidence incriminating Stan and rescues professional escort Rocky (Elle Fanning), who was caught in the shootout.

Forming an uneasy alliance, Roy and Rocky go on the run and drive into Texas. They pass through her hometown of Orange, where she picks up her much younger sister Tiffany. The trio then hunker down at a seedy motel in Galveston. Roy has to find a way to survive, while Rocky is unsure how far she can trust her rescuer to stick around and is tempted to resume her sex trade.

An adaptation of the Nic Pizzolatto novel, Galveston is willing to take some risks. Working from Jim Hammet's patient script, director Mélanie Laurent studiously avoids familiar arcs and instead seeks the depths of emotional bleakness. The pacing is slow, the aesthetics gloomy and often downtrodden, and the overall ambience carries the weight of economic desperation, Roy and Rocky hiding out in corners forgotten by prosperity. 

In another fine and understated performance, Ben Foster's shifty stance, haunted eyes and tortured psyche drive the narrative through the slower patches. Elle Fanning finds matching intensity but is confined to a variation of the desperate hooker with a heart of gold cliche.

From his inability to even discuss his lung diagnosis in the opening scene and his insistence on smoking continuously, Roy is unsure about the point of carrying on. Instincts take over and he survives the ambush, and suddenly Rocky then Tiffany are all but dependant on him to live another day. This is not what Roy asked for, and with Stan surely in pursuit his options remain severely limited. The temptation to dig a deeper hole emerge in the form of sleazy motel room occupant and amateur thief Tray (Robert Aramayo) offering a cut from his next job.

Underpinning the drama is Roy recognizing, with no small amount of anguish, that he represents the best hope of survival for two defenceless victims. His bond with Rocky first cracks then strengthens as he awakens to her nightmare and Tiffany's vulnerability, providing him with a reason to try and survive. And here Galveston charts a unique course, Laurent demonstrating directorial flair with an impressive one-shot scene of escape then a worthy climax of revelation as a hurricane moves in. 

Galveston invests in the eerily quiet edges of the storm, where dread thrives and outcomes are uncertain.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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