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RATED Not Rated
STUDIO Oscilloscope Laboratories
RUNNING TIME 91 minutes
Thomas Haden Church goes crazy in the woods.
Thomas Haden Church, Marc Labreche
In the harsh, wintry woods of rural Quebec, Bruce, a down-on-his-luck snowplow operator, accidentally kills a man during a drunken night joyride. Stricken with panic, he hides the body and escapes to the deep wilderness in hopes of outrunning both the authorities and his own conscience. But as both begin to close in, Bruce falls apart mentally and morally. Mysteries unravel to reveal the man he was before the accident, the truth behind his victim, and the circumstances that brought them together in a single moment.
I want to meet the person who did the marketing for Whitewash because, man or woman, they have a set of balls that a pair of JNCOs couldn’t conceal. The back cover of this movie brazenly compares itself to The Shining, Castaway, and the works of the Coen Brothers. Forgetting comparisons to Kubrick and Zemeckis for the moment, a comparison to Coen Brothers movies rarely turns out well. Usually, it just invites everyone to realize that you made Matt Damon get fat and grow a molestache just to star in a mediocre “dark” comedy that bored insomniacs might watch halfway through on a movie channel in fifteen years.
For Whitewash, the analogies do end up being more than fair, and perhaps that’s why whoever designed the cover decided to throw those blurbs on there, even if that is rather overconfident. It doesn’t really give an adequate picture of what the movie’s about but I can see the threads that led people to remember those movies when watching this one. I’d really like to say something clever and quippy but I just don’t have anything bad to say about this movie, at all.
On a snowy winter night, a snowplow driver hits a man and kills him. That driver is Bruce (Thomas Haden Church) and the dead man is Paul (Marc Labreche) and they knew each other before the incident, but that’s of little importance right now. Bruce carries Paul’s body off to a lonely side-road and buries it in a snow bank and, in a paranoid fear that may be slightly liquor induced, drives the plow off into the wilderness to hide out. He wakes up the next morning to find the plow stalled against a tree. He makes a half-hearted attempt to get out on foot but soon decides he needs to keep lying low and eventually just keeps living in the plow.
As the movie progresses Bruce begins to grow more paranoid, guilty, and unhinged and the story of who these men were to each other grows until that fateful night as we learn that Bruce isn’t as horrible as he seems and that the Hell he’s put himself into is far worse than he deserves.
This is just an appallingly good movie; I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed it. There is a very Coen-esque touch to the movie but that’s really kind of pigeon-holing its schtick. It represents the sort of storyline and stylistic choices of Coen movies (most recognizably Fargo, Blood Simple, and The Man Who Wasn’t There) but there’s a sense of compassion for its protagonist that Coen movies rarely engender.
I think a more apt comparison would be to Cormac McCarthy’s novel Child of God, which dealt with a similar dimwitted maniac living off the land in the hills. McCarthy’s book was very Faulkner-esque and, though Whitewash doesn’t share Child of God’s Ed Gein inspired phantasmagoria, it’s certainly cut from the same cloth.
When we first meet Bruce he’s just killed a man, hidden his body, and run away so he wouldn’t get caught. We see the liquor bottle rolling around the floor of the plow, we see Bruce pocket the money in the dead man’s wallet. We’re meant to feel rather uncharitable about Bruce and his situation at first and think we know all about the man that there is to know, but this is where Whitewash does something interesting because it takes those preconceived notions and, rather than disproving them, begins showing us who Bruce is and what events led to his current state.
Finding out about Paul and Bruce’s relationship leading up to the accident slowly unfolds a much more complicated story that makes Bruce look more and more innocent as it unfurls; but it intersperses these tidbits of information with Bruce breaking and entering, acting like a loon, and rehearsing his story for the police as flashbacks show us that he can be a decent and compassionate man. Both sides are obviously the “real” Bruce so there’s no claim that either is the man putting up a front, but it paints an interesting dual image that few morality plays deal with. It’s an interesting ride because this whole thing was kicked into motion by an act of kindness and in dealing with the repercussions of that act our protagonist becomes the sort of person the audience is meant to believe him to be, initially.
The movie doesn’t let Bruce off the hook for his actions, but his self-serving morality soon gives way to an undercurrent of deep guilt and self-punishment. Most morality plays involve the character convincing themselves that they’re a good person; Whitewash is mostly spent with Bruce convincing himself that he isn’t. Bruce’s attempt to escape punishment for his crime puts him in a situation far more desolate and maddening than any prison ever could be, but for the sake of “freedom” he continues to live this depressing existence. Guilt is his prison and his conscience is a far harsher judge than any in the world.
This is pretty much a one-man show and, though I’ve never disliked him as an actor, I never imagined that Thomas Haden Church could pull off anything this amazing. As outlandish, stupid, boorish, and downright selfish as Bruce acts it never feels like a stretch of the movie’s credibility. He’s a ship rat, willing to climb on top of whatever floats to keep from drowning, and Church gives him just enough of a likeable edge to make you feel bad for him, even when the script doubles down on horribleness.
Whitewash is just the sort of moody, dark, and obliquely funny dramas you don’t see very often. Everyone should seek this movie out but if you dig Cormac McCarthy, the Coen Brothers, or A Simple Plan then this is definitely for you.
No special features here. The disc has 5.1 surround sound, the video is presented in its native 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and has English subtitles.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars