MRR Movie Review: Road to Nowhere

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After casting a mysterious young woman with a disturbing resemblance to the femme fatale in his movie, a young filmmaker begins to blur fiction with reality.
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Movie Review: "Road to Nowhere"

--Rating: R (some language and brief violence)
Length: 121 minutes
Release Date: Apr. 7, 2011
Directed by: Monte Hellman
Genre: Romance/Thriller

Director Monte Hellman is known for creating offbeat independent films, and "Road to Nowhere" is his first full-length film since the 1980s. His previous movies include "Ride in the Whirlwind," "Back Door to Hell," and "The Shooting." Critics have speculated that "Road to Nowhere" is Hellman's attempt to create a somewhat biographical look at the film industry. Whether or not there is anything of Hellman in main character Mitch Haven, the character is a director who is also creating a film called "Road to Nowhere." The movie Haven is making is inspired by an insurance fraud case.

The somewhat erratic plot of Hellman's film centers on Mitch Haven's love for actress Laurel Graham and a $100 million dollar insurance crime that may involve the actress. The film weaves a complex plot. There's a high-tempered undercover detective who wonders whether Haven's love for Laurel is getting in the way of discovering the truth, and the suggestion of a fake suicide in the form of a plane crash. Despite this complicated plot, "Road to Nowhere" does have a classic film-noir element that is reminiscent of black-and-white detective movies.

The film certainly does not have any traditional heroes. Mitch, in fact, may be closer to an antihero. After falling in love with Laurel, he becomes obsessed with both the actress and with his movie project. In fact, rather than focusing on a pretty obvious crime, the film instead concentrates on the fact that Mitch loses himself so much in making the movie that he becomes dangerously involved in criminal activities. It is here that viewers may imagine a relationship between the character Mitch Haven and the movie director Monte Hellman. Perhaps Hellman is using the dark, haunting film to comment on the dangers artists can face with respect to their work, especially when that work becomes more important than the realities of life.

Actor Tygh Runyan turns in a solid performance as Mitch Haven. The actor is also known for minor roles in films such as "Snakes on a Plane" and "Antitrust." Haven's love interest is played by Shannyn Sossamon, who has appeared in movies such as "A Knight's Tale" and "40 Days and 40 Nights." Sossamon's performance is rather unconvincing, mostly due to the fact that she doesn't quite pull off the multilayered female role that's traditional in the film noir genre. Other performers of note include Cliff De Young as criminal Rafe Tachen, and Dominique Swain as Nathalie Post. Perhaps the strongest performance of the film is Waylon Payne's portrayal of the slightly slimy investigator Bruno Brotherton.

Some notable moments include an outright nod to Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and the incorporation of clips from classic movies, including Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." At one point, Sossamon's character recites poetry by George Santayana, and the music Tom Russell wrote for the film addresses large themes of lost dreams and vainglory. These allusions may help to create a film that most viewers find hard to relate to. At the same time, they likely resonate with the cult following that Hellman has developed over the years.

The film has a large geographical scope, mostly due to international phone calls from the character Rafe Tachen. Although the calls take the story to distant locations such as Rome, the impact for viewers is more distracting than exotic. Hellman also makes no commitments to a concrete timeline. The film merges past and present in a manner that leaves open some questions as to what is memory, what is reality, and what is merely fantasy.

Reactions to "Road to Nowhere" vary widely and the film is probably not for every viewer. The complex mystery provides a detailed and hard-to-follow narrative that may, at times, be too clever for its own good. The overall premise is dark and disturbing, provoking thought and raising questions all the way to the end. The film is less about plot and more about characters. Hellman has created a dark commentary about the differences-and similarities-between art and truth. If those watching the film find themselves lost, that may be Hellman's intention.

"Road to Nowhere" may not be for everyone, but it is a film that art house fans, film noir buffs, and those who like their movies with a heavy dose of intellect can appreciate.

Rating: 3 out of 5