The story revolves around traveling salesman Cliff (Scoot McNairy) and his quest to provide for his wife by any means possible. Cliff is struggling with the weight of expectations that he’s put on himself through this demanding and unrewarding job of selling products to companies that don’t want or need them. After being fired from his job because of some shady dealings in former employment (something that was alluded to in the film’s first scene), Cliff happens across a former colleague, Ricky (Kit Harrington) who offers him a chance to keep his nose above water by revisiting a life of crime once again.
What does this crime-laden life entail though? Ricky is involved with running guns and drugs across state lines, and Cliff, in an act of desperation, agrees to join up with Ricky hoping for some fast money and a chance to provide for his wife. The film’s steady narrative is aligned with the slow unveiling of character development that fills in the holes that first originate. We discover more about Cliff and the death of his son, as well as his relationship with Ricky and the mysterious man from the beginning of the film. Ricky’s motives for his criminal life are also revealed and the two begin to bond once again, but there are desperate decisions that look to derail everything, which leads to a showstopping finale – who will come out with their lives in the end?
The first question you might ask yourself is, can Scoot McNairy hold down a film as the leading man after spending so long as a supporting actor? He’s very assured in the role at least, as if it was made for him. His character has blithering fool tendencies; a fish out of water you could say, but one who is surprisingly self-sufficient. Cliff has fantastic survival instincts and knows what must be done to take care of his family, and the way Scoot traverses through all the character’s desperate emotions is subtly one of the film’s best aspects. However, the film’s shining glory is not Scoot, but his co-star, Kit Harrington. A name known more for his good-guy approach to acting; playing the hero; the knight in shining armour, and yet this time, he portrays a cold and calculated killer with a likeable arrogance to him. Ricky is more complicated than when we first meet him and there’s even a believable American accent and a sublime handlebar moustache that cements our intrigue in this fascinating character.
It’s not just the acting that lifts the film though because it’s also shot with creative efficiency. The film really harnesses the feeling of loneliness through its use of cinematography, highlighting the snowy landscapes of Montana with Cliff’s singular car riding along the highway is just one way in which this excels. There’s a lot of experimentation with contemporary filming techniques too, several shot reverse shots captured from obscure angles to spice up the scene only adds to the gritty flavour that the film expels. A nicely constructed score also compliments the camera work to aid with the tension and those culminating moments of action and realisation. Even though everything seems a little slow, its believability and authenticity make the film work – not everything needs to be action-packed and full of high-octane adrenaline, especially not a small-town thriller set in the sticks.
Blood for Dust won’t blow your socks off, it probably won’t stay in your mind as one to remember either, but it really is a decent little film that represents a desperate man fighting against it all quite effectively. It might suffer from a little bit with the rehashing of old styles and narrative techniques, but it’s been executed well and is stoic enough for it to work – even the action (although there isn’t a lot) is nicely choreographed, even if all the characters seem like super marines with their expert marksmanship. Although the addition of Stephen Dorff’s character seemed fairly pointless, Ethan Suplee’s inclusion wasn’t much better, which is just a couple of examples of thin writing with the story. But if you’re a fan of the thriller genre, then this might just be the perfect surprise inclusion on your watch list next time you fancy something chiselled.
Raindance has made a name for itself over the years for showcasing independent films of all genres. Whether it’s through thought-provoking and quirky documentaries (and there have been some fabulous ones) or gritty noir thrillers that evoke chilling feelings of dread and nausea. One of the films being shown at this year’s edition of the festival is Rod Blackhurst’s Blood for Dust, a slow-burning thriller set in Montana that uses the power of the landscape to aid the story when it really needs it to. Blood for Dust doesn’t break new ground for the genre – it’s in a similar mould to Courtney Hunt’s 2008’s Frozen River in feeling and story – but it’s well put together and delivers on almost everything that it set out to achieve.
Blood for Dust premieres at the 31st edition of Raindance.