Though it attracted no love from Oscar voters, “Wind River,” a rural indie noir, was one of last year’s success stories, proving that audiences have a taste for such well-plotted if low-key mysteries, if they’re able to find them. “Juggernaut,” which gets a very limited U.S. theatrical launch from LevelFilm (simultaneous with its on-demand release) likely won’t achieve that popularity. But Canadian writer-director Daniel DiMarco’s debut feature sports enough of the same elements — and an equivalent surety of craft — to potentially access the same audience.
Ne’er-do-well Saxon Gamble (Jack Kesy) leaves a prison stint to head, like a guided missile, exactly where he’ll create the most misery. That would be his hometown in agricultural central British Columbia, where he’s estranged from his “golden boy” older brother Dean (David Cubitt) and father Leonard (Peter McRobbie), the latter an admitted erstwhile “drunk man of violence” who abandoned them both but has since found the Lord (and the cloth). It’s Sax’s conviction that the two men were somehow responsible for the death of the mother who loved him. But everyone else is certain she committed suicide, including local police; she had a lot to be unhappy about.
Affirming his own reputation for violence, Sax soon makes himself again a source of criminal menace, particularly in his renewed alliance with a shady father and son (Stephen McHattie and Ty Olsson) whose heavy-handed help he deploys to “investigate” his mother’s demise.
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The “prodigal son” narrative strand rarely fails to intrigue. “Juggernaut” benefits further from being set in a cinematically underrepresented region whose imposing landscapes are well-utilized in the stark, dark look of Patrick Scola’s widescreen cinematography. But the community the film portrays might better have been sketched by DiMarco’s underpopulated screenplay.
The potency of multiple bitter father-son legacies eventually exposed here is somewhat compromised by the weakness of a sole onscreen female relationship: Amanda Crew as Dean’s younger live-in girlfriend Amelia, who takes up his brother’s cause for reasons that seem more contrived than psychologically credible. There’s also something of a letdown of suspense in a movie whose eventual revelations don’t arrive explosively, but rather as the result of a sad face-off, followed by a depressing coda.
Even if the ending falls something short of memorable, “Juggernaut” still holds attention as a strong, well-acted effort that effectively walks the line between dysfunctional family drama and revenge thriller. The confidence with with DiMarco and his collaborators imbue their small-scaled tale with a Big Sky Country gravity bodes well for their future.