Sweet Virginia, directed by Jamie M. Dagg, offers a small, contained, but well told story that at times is infused with an unnerving tension and undertones of something sinister, while at other times it was harmfully slow and a little too dower. It struggles to find a balance that then makes for an experience that is always engaging, but when it’s at its best there’s certainly something that pulls you in. Is it enough though? I hope to discover the answer to that question through my review, so let’s get to it.
After a triple homicide in a sleepy town, residents are in mourning, but our primary character, Sam – played by Jon Bernthal – keeps moving forward with daily life. He befriends one of the customers who is staying at his motel; Elwood – played by Christopher Abbott – however there’s a darkness that seems to thrive within him and it could see even more people getting hurt.
Sweet Virginia starts off strong; with a suspenseful, turned violent opening that sets up what seems to be a pretty intense film to come. But after that things really slow down and in the place of that tension inducing momentum, is a pretty sedate, sombre first act; while I was willing to settle into that at first, I felt it began to drag on for a little too long.
It was only because of the unsettlingly sinister performance from Christopher Abbott (a performance that never falters) that the film held my attention at all, in the beginning. Speaking of which: Abbott really does steal the show. His performance is rich with varying levels of emotion. Elwood is a damaged man; his early life was not kind to him, he seems to be alone and drifting to where ever work may be, and it has all festered and created a rage-filled, unsettled individual who seems ready to explode at any moment. Any scene with him in it is one that will have you tensing up and worrying about what unexpectedly horrible thing he might do. As you can imagine, that makes for some engaging moments.
In fact, I’d say one of the films strongest aspects is that is boasts a solid cast of actors who all really seem to be giving their best. My main man, Jon Bernthal of course brings his all – I’m yet to see that man ever phone in a performance. He’s one of those actors who if you put in something, he gives his all and he makes his presence known. But it’s Imogen Poots who I think gets the short end of the stick, as much of the dialogue she is given feels clunky and not very believable – maybe it was her performance I’m not sure.
But I would say overall much of the dialogue isn’t natural feeling and for the less experienced actors it does seem difficult for them to get through. There were one-or-two scenes where I would scrunch my face, confused at the words they had just said.
Thankfully this wasn’t an issue that harmed the telling of the story or the development of the characters, because director, Jamie M. Dagg really picks up the slack and shows he has a real talent for telling a tight little story with a handful of intriguing characters, all with the camera. The film communicated more to me through what it would show and where it would put the focus of the camera in a particular scene, than it did through the script. I think that really helped keep my engaged with the film, because once I knew I had to keep my attention trained on everything in the scene and not just the characters, my attentiveness was in full effect.
The story itself is pretty simple but still something I was for the most part, gripped by. Again, it’s Jamie M. Dagg’s handling of it that I think helped elevate it beyond what could have easily been a very bland, very poorly delivered experience.
However, I don’t think that most people will pay enough attention to the film, because of how slow and dower it is, and they will surely miss what the camera is trying to visually communicate to them. Which if I’m being honest, is fair, because even I found myself struggling to keep my full attention on the film in the beginning. It did pull me back in, but I’m not sure it will be the same situation for others.
In the end, I was content with the film I had watched. At only 93 minutes, I was happy to enjoy the elements of the film that were done well, and I can’t think of any point where I was bored or annoyed by what I was watching. It’s just that it isn’t the most memorable film I’ve seen… it’s just… another okay little film.
I’m going to recommend, Sweet Virginia, but with a caveat: Wait until this film makes its way to your preferred streaming service (Netflix, Amazon, etc.), as I honestly think that’s the only way it is truly worth checking it out. If you do end up watching it, I do hope you enjoy it.
Wrapping up; feel free to leave any feedback or opinions you may have about the film/my review, in the comments section down below. I’d really love it if you would give both my blog and my Twitter –@GavinsRamblings – a follow. But I’ll stop rambling now and end with saying thank you and that I hope you have a great day.