Directed by Christopher Smith.
Starring Tye Sheridan, Bel Powley, Emory Cohen, John Lynch and Stephen Moyer.
Law student Harper’s mother is in hospital in a coma and he blames his stepfather, Vincent. He’s not coping well with the situation, seeking consolation in drink. After one especially heavy night, he awakes to find local bad boy, Johnny, on his doorstep. Apparently, the night before, Harper employed him to kill Vincent. It means a trip to Vegas, where his step father has gone “on business”. And, despite Harper’s efforts to get out of the deal, Johnny isn’t taking no for an answer.
British director, Christopher Smith, has done something of a volte face. His previous film was seasonal comedy Get Santa in 2014, complete with Jim Broadbent, Rafe Spall and Warwick Davis as the proverbial Christmas elf. Detour is a million dusty miles away from that.
This time he’s moved into noir in a film with a plot like a corkscrew, taking you in one direction, then another and never letting you get close to feeling comfortable – and if you start edging in that direction, it throws everything up in the air and moves the goal posts. All at the same time.
It’s a film that owes a lot to, of all things, a rom-com. Peter Howitt’s Sliding Doors from 1998, a “what if” story, which looked at what happened when Gwyneth Paltrow caught her tube on one particular day – and what happened when she didn’t. The idea here is slightly different, sometimes with storylines that are more parallels than alternatives. But, determined to keep his audience on their toes, Smith changes tack after a few of those, dovetails them momentarily, and then off they go again on their own merry way. You never quite know where you are and that’s just fine! It makes for tension, intrigue and a very watchable taut hour and a half.
And it makes for a slick, stylish noir thriller with shades of Tarantino. It also takes a cinematic technique that’s almost become a cliché and breathed some new life into it. At the first sight of split screen, you can fee a sigh coming on, but Smith goes further than simply dividing the screen into two. It’s often more, showing you different scenarios all happening simultaneously, or allowing you to see what Harper (Tye Sheridan) is doing in one frame and what he’s actually thinking in the other. Better still, the screen is divided up for the two parallel storylines, which also run at the same time. And it doesn’t stop there because there are times when a scene is set up to look like split screen and it’s not: the dividing lines in the shot are created by the setting – patio doors, for instance.
It’s helped greatly by a cracking young cast. Tye Sheridan, a familiar face from indie movies like Joe and Mud, is Harper, a decent, intelligent young man who always seems to make bad decisions yet somehow manages to escape unscathed. More recently, he’s been in bigger budget offerings, like X-Men:Apocalypse, but here he’s back on what seems to be his home turf, a small, sharp indie movie and his brand of taciturn youth blended with vulnerability is absolutely right here. He’s even cheeky enough to have a poster in his room for Paul Newman in, yes, you’ve guessed it – Harper. Another noir. Bel Powley takes another change of direction, moving from Princess Margaret and a sexual precocious teenager in the 70s, to a resourceful young hooker although it has to be said her attempt at an American accent is shaky at best. The surprise is Emory Cohen, as the baby-faced Johnny covered with tats – unrecognisable from the straight-down-the-line Tony in Brooklyn and completely different in attitude. A younger Ben Foster in the making, perhaps.
Detour isn’t getting a big distribution but its simultaneous release on demand should help it reach a wider audience. For anybody who loves a noir thriller, especially of the more modern persuasion, this is a little firecracker. And definitely worth the trip.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★