Mercury Plains, 2016.
Directed by Charles Burmeister.
Starring Scott Eastwood, Nick Chinlund and Angela Sarafyan.
Mitch, jobless and drifting, accepts an offer by an undercover FBI paramilitary officer over the Mexican border to join his crew taking out the drug trade. He soon however begins to question his motives…
Scott Eastwood seems perennially like one of those leading men who will forever live in the shadow of their iconic, vaunted fathers, or at least he’s certainly likely to end up that way if he keeps spearheading leaden, stodgy fodder like Mercury Plains. Pitched by writer-director Charles Burmeister, in his second picture after 2008’s Columbus Day, as a searing, smoky and quiet trek into the black heart of the Mexican drug cartel trade via an undercover team of edgy Feds, the result ends up being little of the sort. Despite being demonstrably low budget, it’s also low on wit, originality or incident, with Burmeister attempting to immerse you first in the slow-burn conventions of the genre he’s echoing, and worrying about character or script second. He has clear aspirations for what he’s attempting to evoke here, and there are without doubt themes and beats he wants to hit – he simply misses almost every mark.
Right from the off, Eastwood’s Mitch is positioned as the quiet drifter, lacking any purpose in the back-end of middle America, unable to get even a menial job and watching the entire town wilt around him. Burmeister is visibly looking for the son to evoke the father, for Scott to channel Clint as he’s hustled on a trip across the border by a Mexican pimp after a buddy (who we never see again) bails on paying for the hooker he hired. In Eastwood’s defence, the problems don’t lie with him; while he naturally lacks his father’s iconic charisma, he’s a perfectly able leading man, he’s just given almost zero characterisation as Mitch beyond looking broody, intense and frequently being referred to as “a man of few words”. We get his plight, we understand why he takes the offer of sleazy, enigmatic paramilitary ‘The Captain’ (played by the ever-entertaining Nick Chinlund), but we don’t particularly care.
Burmeister in his defence does attempt to explore an interesting concept once Mitch starts riding with the Captain—under the pretense of being an undercover FBI officer taking down the Mexican drug trade—as we see the entire unit is largely made up of stray teenagers, all being taught how to fire guns and take lives for a cause Mitch comes to realise is little more than highway robbery. There is potential for interesting commentary on the exploitation of these young men, but Burmeister doesn’t have the script or the budget to realistically convey it well; everything just ends up delivered in hard-boiled fashion, or not delivered at all. He also falls back on stock clichés – hackneyed dialogue and some enormously bland and amateurish action sequences (not even the sound effects appear to have been applied properly) which make the piece difficult to take seriously or invest in. By the climactic act, which after endless meandering conversations and painful attempts to engender sexual tension between Eastwood and Angela Sarafyian’s Latin temptress Alyssa, even though Burmeister attempts to draw out a trial by endurance for Mitch, it all ends up with Chinlund gainfully attempting to sell an incredibly nonsensical, quasi-religious speech before we’re blessedly put out of our misery.
For the final scene, Mercury Plains then struggles to deliver an emotional payoff both for Mitch and the picture thematically, but once again it feels as though the script has no idea how to adequately convey what it’s trying to say. Charles Burmeister should perhaps put his toys back in the box, or at least do another semester at film school; plodding, amateurish direction, making little use of the admittedly meagre budget; rote and tired action beats which barely register as such, and either melodramatic or on the opposite end of the scale, undercooked dialogue in a script which barely feels formed. Scott Eastwood, if he wishes even to touch a glimpse of his father’s success, needs to choose his projects more carefully than this.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.