J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

DWF ’16: Misfortune

The Arizona state parole board should be ashamed of itself. They just kicked loose the man who murdered Boyd Whitlock’s father solely to alleviate prison over-crowding. Of course, they won’t have trouble finding him. They could simply follow the trail of dead bodies he leaves in Desmond Devenish’s Misfortune (trailer here), which screened at the 2016 Dances with Films.

Roman Whitlock pulled off a major diamond heist with intel supplied by Mallick, but the post-score split ended in gunfire. The senior Whitlock stashed the loot someplace before he croaked, so Mallick naturally pays the son a visit as soon as the bureaucrats spring him. Obviously, the unemployed, freeloading Whitlock fils does not have any diamonds in his life. Rounding up his girlfriend Sloan and low life drug-pushing best bud Russell, Whitlock heads to the remote crossroads where he was supposed to meet the old man that fateful night. They will start their search from there, but Mallick will dog them every step of the way.

When the scrambling commences, Misfortune sort of becomes a stripped down, noirish It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World with dramatically fewer stars and significantly more facial hair. There will be betrayals and a few dangerous outsiders getting in on the act. Nobody actually holds the bag of stones murmuring “the stuff that dreams are made of” but the sentiment is clearly there.

Frankly, Devenish is a better director and screenwriter than a leading man. Granted, Boyd Whitlock has had some bad turns, but his portrayal is problematically sullen at times. However, the film still zings along nicely. Some of the twists you can see coming up in the rearview mirror, but the pacing and attitude are spot on. He cranks up the tension quite dexterously and fully capitalizes on the desert locations.

Devenish also has some effective support, starting with Xander Bailey, who steals most of his scenes as the caustic Russell. Crafty veterans Kevin Gage, Steve Earle, and Nick Mancuso also lend the film grit and massive screen presence as Mallick, Jim the Whitlocks’ family friend, and old Roman, respectively.

Despite its budget constraints, Misfortune is a nifty little Southwest noir, in the tradition of Cold in July and Red Rock West. We can deal with Devenish’s on-screen brooding, but the title is a terrible mistake. This film is considerably more fun than the word “misfortune” implies. Recommended for thriller fans, Misfortune should have a considerable life ahead of it on the festival circuit, particularly in the Sunbelt, following its screening at this year’s Dances with Films.

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