Deep Dark Canyon (2013) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA rated R for language and violence
Running time: 90 min.

Cast: Spencer Treat Clark, Nick Eversman, Ted Levine, Martin Starr, Michael Bowen, Matthew Lillard, Stacey Travis, Justine Bateman, Abraham Benrubi
Director: Abe Levy, Silver Tree
Screenplay: Abe Levy, Silver Tree
Review published April 26, 2013

Deep Dark Canyon 2013Ted Levine (Shutter Island, American Gangster) stars as Bloom Towne, a sheriff in the small town of Guerneville, California. He finds himself in the unenviable position of arresting one of his two teenage sons, Skylar (Eversman, Cinema Verite) and Nate (Clark, Mystic River), for accidentally killing the town's mayor, Dick Cavanaugh, in a hunting accident. The Cavanaugh family roots run wide and deep in this town, causing the kin to seek that Skylar, a minor who is taking the blame for his older brother Nate, be tried as an adult. Nate isn't going to let baby brother go to prison for life (for something he didn't do, no less) without a fight, so the plan is to spring Skylar out of custody and make their way up to Canada. However, there is a lot of history between the Towne family and the Cavanaughs that gets dredged up, which many involved want to keep buried at any cost.

Playing often like a low-key, darkly comic action piece, Deep Dark Canyon mostly succeeds due to several key components, mainly the strong performances by the cast (especially Ted Levine as the man struggling between his duty as father and lawman), the tight direction by the husband-and-wife team of Levy and Tree (The Aviary, One of Our Own), the rustic scoring of James Weston and unique soundtrack selection, and the nicely shot cinematography from Dan Stoloff (Wedding Daze, Mini's First Time).  Perhaps the only thing keeping this nice independent flick from being one I would wholeheartedly recommend would be the uneven tone of the film, which deviates between deadly serious survival drama and half-smirking, Barney Fife-evocative, local yokel mayhem.  These gun-toting buffoons are the adversaries, but we're never quite sure how seriously to take their intent to kill with deadly force, as they seem content to drink and take potshots at one another much more than they appear ready to snuff out the lives of two cop-killing boys looking to get away with it.

Though I do think the good parts just manage to outweigh the weaker elements, I think that the most troubling aspect for me, other than the problems with the overall tone, come from the actions of Nate throughout, but in particular the early scene whereby he rams a police vehicle to the point where it teeters on a high precipice and eventually kills the two rather innocent deputies inside.  Not only does this action shift our interest in seeing these boys ultimately get away with their plans of escape, but this needless murder of the lawmen -- the most heinously criminal act among many in the entire story -- is given such short shrift that we're not even sure until later in the film of the fate of the men who crashed in the vehicle.  Surely, it should not be treated so cavalierly as this, I could only wonder.

One can sense the effort to make an old-fashioned ballad akin to old-timey movies about outlaws with hearts of gold on the run, and indeed the final quarter in particular may have some recalling a particular Newman/Redford classic in its execution.  While it doesn't quite pull enough of the right strings to elevate this simple story into the kind of folkloric tall tale of antiheroes caught up fighting against the unjust long arm of the law, the strength of the characterizations and perpetually interesting predicaments keep it flowing enough to earn a modest recommendation for viewers who enjoy manhunt thrillers that defiantly stray, for better or worse, off of the beaten path.

 Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo