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Monday, July 7, 2014

Bad Country 2014 * * * Stars

Bad CountryDirector: Chris Brinker
Year: 2014
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Amy Smart

Make no bones about it, if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had an award for Best Picture a la straight to DVD, Bad Country would surely take the prize. Matt Dillon, who seems to love appearing in movies that hardly anyone bothers to see, gives a revealing and rather appealing performance as "Country's" revenge-minded lead role. With this turn, a stint in 2004's Employee of the Month, and the part of Patton Dubois in 2006's Nothing But the Truth, Dillon is for a better word, the Redbox king. To each his own I guess (for the record, I've got no problem paying $1.20 to rent a DVD at a Redbox kiosk, that's for sure).

With a working title labeled Whiskey Bay (I almost like that one better) and a promising director who died way too soon (the taskful Chris Brinker), Bad Country goes back to the early 80's with contract killer Jesse Weiland (Dillon) getting caught by an intense police detective named Bud Carter (the forever cool Willem Dafoe). Weiland gets busted on a handful of serious charges. He's looking at life in prison unless he can become an informant by giving up every name on a list of people he works with (other contract killers who inhabit a nasty, dutiful crime ring). Now Weiland is about as laid-back as anyone. He doesn't give a hoot about his well being. But he's got a wife/newborn on the outside and is willing to cooperate in order to avoid going to the perennial slammer.

Bad Country harks back to stuff like 1991's Rush, 1982's 48 Hrs, and even Matt Dillon's own earlier work, the critically acclaimed Drugstore Cowboy. Call it a narc flick, a broken down character study, a stylistic mob farce, and mustache abundant (almost every character seems to channel the facial hair of actor Sam Elliott for unabashed inspiration). What you don't want to call "Country" is something that lacks for trying. This thing wants to detour you from knowing that it probably got rejected from numerous theater screenings. Could the generic title be the culprit? I can't be sure. Does it matter at this point? Not really. The original release date was months ago so it's obvious that too much time has passed.

Image result for bad country movie scenesNevertheless, we get the pleasure of seeing a formed dynamic and an unlikely partnership between the characters played by Dafoe and Dillon. It's hard to believe it, but they have never been on screen together before the release of "Country". Here they've got great chemistry as opposites who are at large, the same. Watching them trade dialogue in various scenes made me think that they've been working side by side for years. Throw in Tom Berenger (where's he been) as ruthless crime boss Lutin and you've got a cast that makes this thing rise above the ordinary. Yeah, Bad Country does at certain intervals, feel like a full-on rental with carbon copy shootouts and accents used by its actors that don't sound like anybody who lives in Louisiana (the flick's setting and on-site location). But for most of the time, there is plenty of crackling dialogue, a sense of urgency, and smooth, conventional storytelling tactics that make you think otherwise.

In retrospect, "Country's" ending and its opening twenty minutes resonate with a lot of police protocol. You know, where if a felon (of any kind) is caught, they have a chance to make a deal, give up a name, and rat out someone higher up on the criminalised food chain. If you've seen anything law and order related, this is a premise that's as old as dirt. Thankfully, this little seen crime drama supplies enough energy, surmised wit, and tough guy machismo to garner my recommendation regardless of all its familiarity. Bottom line: Bad Country ain't so "bad".

Of note: Bad Country's setting is in 1983. You wouldn't know it though because its sense of time and place is sort of lacking in detail. Case in point: I didn't really figure out that the film wasn't in present day mode until a handful of scenes involved characters talking on payphones. Anyway, this insight is merely an oversight and shouldn't keep you from enjoying what's on screen.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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