BLOW THE MAN DOWN: "ELLIPTICAL MOVIEMAKING" AT ITS BEST
* * * (out of four)
“Blow the Man Down” is what you might call an “elliptical” movie: Plot points pass with very little fanfare -- often a terribly brief scene or an unheralded visual cue -- and the film consistently refuses to Spell Things Out; you really have to pay attention.
Since the new Amazon original is a thriller with a dandy double-murder plot, this approach is quite effective for folks willing to put in the effort; we are forced to invest intensely in the tale -- like we’re working synergistically with the writers to help flesh out and fill in their story.
Aiding involvement is the fact that one of the murders is a total mystery, while we know exactly what happened with the other. That latter killing was perpetrated by the younger of two sisters struggling to make ends meet in a Maine fishing village. Ditsy, drunk and more than a little freaked out, Mary Beth killed a man who began to get too aggressive after picking her up at a bar. (Her state of mind was undoubtedly affected by the gun in his glove compartment -- and bloodstains in the trunk of his car.)
The girl then confesses to her older, more sensible sibling, whereupon the two manage to dispose of the body -- but not very tidily, I’m afraid. Next morning, local police ask to borrow the girls’ skiff to retrieve a body; but it turns out that is a totally different corpse.
So … are the murders related? Is either connected to Enid Devlin, who runs the local brothel and doesn’t seem to treat her ladies very well? And what about the $50,000 Mary Beth found when she returned to the crime scene to look for a left-behind weapon?
Though “Blow the Man Down” has been billed as a black comedy, it isn’t really very funny. Yet it somewhat earns this moniker by maintaining a sardonic distance from its lurid goings-on. In part, this is achieved through the film-makers’ light touch -- as in the elliptical plotting, and the way the camera cuts away at the more horrid moments. Several online reviewers compared it to a Coen brothers movie -- specifically “Fargo”; and that will give you a fair idea of how writer-directors Danielle Crudy and Bridget Savage Cole proceed. Their mild ironic tone is established in the first scene, when a bunch of hard-working fishermen belt out an old sea-chanty -- sort of like a seaside Greek chorus; and these maritime music-makers reappear several times thereafter.
Acting is excellent in every single role, supported by strong music, handsome photography and atmospheric production design; you can almost smell the ocean and the fresh-caught fish.
If the film seems a bit slow or laconic, well -- give them some time to blow the man down.
Or the woman.
“Blow the Man Down,”
directed by Bridget Savage Cole & Danielle Crudy
Run time: 91 min.
Rated R for language and some violence