"Coastlines": A study in character, a strange ending
Special to The Seattle Times
Locally co-produced by Paul Allen's Vulcan Productions and held in limbo since 2002, "Coastlines" is worth seeing for anyone who enjoyed "Ruby in Paradise" and "Ulee's Gold," the previous entries in what writer-director Victor Nunez calls his "Panhandle Trilogy." It's flawed but no less fascinating for its mood of simmering tension on the fringes of the American dream.
Named for its humid locations on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Nunez's trilogy is undeniably unique. And even if "Coastlines" feels compromised by its too-tidy ending, it's still imbued with the mature intelligence that makes Nunez's films so involving, even as it dips into familiar love-triangle melodrama.
Like so many film noir antiheroes before him, Sonny (Timothy Olyphant) is fresh out of prison, looking to go straight in a world that won't let him. He took a three-year rap for his role in a drug operation, and his former partners — Fred (William Forsythe) and Fred's seething nephew Eddie (Josh Lucas) — are unwilling to pony up the $200,000 they owe him. Tensions escalate, Sonny's dad (Scott Wilson) is an early casualty, Sonny plots revenge, and Sheriff Dave Lockhart (Josh Brolin) suddenly has a real mess on his hands.
Sonny, Dave and Dave's wife, Ann (Sarah Wynter), are pals from way back; Ann might've married Sonny if Dave hadn't proposed first. Their shared history gives "Coastlines" an edge of seemingly inevitable tragedy, and Ann's readiness for an affair sends Dave on an anguished tangent of trial infidelity.
Amid all this soapy emotion and hardboiled crime, Nunez pays admirable attention to details of character. "Coastlines" is not as accomplished as the great 1981 thriller "Cutter's Way," but it occupies the same dramatic territory, and it's a terrific showcase for a talented cast on the rise: Olyphant now stars in HBO's "Deadwood," Wynter appeared in the second season of "24," Lucas ("Glory Road") is on the cusp of Hollywood's A-List, and the underrated Brolin gives one of his best performances to date.
A pity, then, that Nunez violates noir tradition with an upbeat ending that just doesn't wash. Given all that precedes it, the conclusion of "Coastlines" feels unearned and false. Nunez could've learned from "Cutter's Way": Sometimes, the only logical direction is down.
Jeff Shannon: email@example.com
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