Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The World Made Straight: To Live and Die in Appalachia
very thought his ancestors might have been Unionists during the Civil War is
almost too much for a rural white slacker like Travis Shelton to process. Yet,
he slowly comes to learn family and land holdings (or lack thereof) had as much
to do with one’s wartime alignment as geography for 1860s Appalachian citizens.
In fact, he becomes preoccupied with a notorious Confederate massacre of Union
POWs while getting ensnared in a contemporary feud during the course of David
Burris’s The World Made Straight (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
prospects are limited, so when he stumbles onto a secluded marijuana grove in
the backwoods, he foolishly decides to start harvesting it himself. He manages
to sell one uprooted shrub to Leonard Shuler, a disgraced former school teacher
who now deals dope for Carlton Toomey, the plant’s “rightful” owner. Despite
Shuler’s warnings, Shelton pushes his luck, blundering into the bear-trap laid
out for him.
avoid trouble, Toomey spares Shelton’s life, but a cold war soon develops
between them. Moving in with Shuler, Shelton becomes something of his student,
learning the tragic local Civil War history, as well as the particulars of drug
dealing. For a while, Shelton seems to reassert control over his life, but
Shuler’s drug addled girlfriend Dena is a destabilizing wildcard, whom he knows
will always betray him for a fix.
all the guns and drugs, Straight offers
a considerably more nuanced portrayal of the hardscrabble South than you
typically see on film. It has a strong sense of the region and the 1970s era,
forgiving most of its characters’ sins as products of their depressed economic circumstances
and the depressing environment. It is also rather tricky to categorize,
consisting of maybe three parts naturalistic drama and one part thriller.
Regardless, it never feels exploitative, even when rather disturbing things
watching Noah Wylie mug through the Librarians
series openers, it is nice to see he still has something like this in him.
He is terrific as Shuler, convincingly balancing grit and nebbishness. Frankly,
it is also somewhat remarkable how completely English actor Jeremy Irvine
disappears into the role of Shelton. Since he is sometimes irresponsibly impulsive
and other times passive, Shelton is a tough protag to get one’s arms around,
but Irvine always comes across quite genuine, nonetheless. Still, he
understandably wilts when confronted with the intense villainous force of Steve
Earle’s Toomey. He conveys some frighteningly human dimensions to the hill country
kingpin, who could have easily descended into caricature.
In fact, there are a number of cards
screenwriter Shane Danielsen’s adaptation of Ron Rash’s novel might easily have
overplayed, such as vaguely ghostly influence the historical massacre exerts on
Shelton, but he maintains a balanced hand instead. As a result, it is a much
better film than most viewers will expect. Recommended for those who appreciate
dark Southern morality tales, The World
Made Straight opens this Friday (1/9) in New York at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: Noah Wyle