A Violent Separation, 2019.
Directed by Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz.
Starring Brenton Thwaites, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Claire Holt, Ben Robson, Ted Levine, Francesca Eastwood, and Gerald McRaney
Two brothers struggle with a terrible truth behind a tragedy that aims to tear three generations of a family apart.
On paper, A Violent Separation (despite having one of the most generic titles in recent memory) seems capable of grabbing anyone’s attention; a small Midwestern police officer must choose between loyalty to his family or the law. It’s also a morally complex situation considering that the murder that occurs is accidental. The problem with this is the circumstances that lead to the murder are completely stupid and hinge your investment into these characters and narrative on if you can or can’t accept that the plot is a result of dumbasses unnecessarily playing around with guns. Even if you do develop some sympathy for these characters and their mindsets, it’s going to take a while considering the way in which the crime unfolds.
It also doesn’t help that the officer tasked with having his conscious destroyed over time from his choice is Brenton Thwaites, who not only puts in a subpar performance, but is immediately difficult to buy in the role when accounting for the location/environment around him, his good looks, nice guy persona, and seeming lack of physical strength. There is a bar fight 15 minutes into the movie that I suppose is meant to diffuse these reservations, but comes across unbelievable for the same reasons. It’s kind of like if Justin Bieber was the hard-nosed law of the land in a town full of impoverished and slimy individuals. Again, it’s challenging to accept any of this, but the bigger issue is that Brenton Thwaites is simply mediocre all around with his performance.
Questionable actor choices aside, directors and brothers Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz (using a script from Michael Arkof) tell a rather flat story that seems to continue and continue for no reason; there is very little tension or drama, especially for a movie where the brothers at the center of this town mystery quickly begin dating other people almost immediately. Norman (Brenton Thwaites) actually begins a relationship with the sister of the deceased (Alycia Debnam-Carey who is fine but given very little to do), which is nowhere near as intriguing as it should be. What does work is Ben Robson’s drunken troublemaking Ray; his initial desperation to cover up the accidental murder of his on-and-off lover Abbey (Claire Holt) eats away at him mentally, and even if the time jump fails to capitalize on a number of things regarding the mindsets of the characters, it does do good for Ray once remnants of the murder resurface and he realizes that he was only temporarily escaping the inevitable. It creates a complicated dynamic between the brothers that paves the way for a somewhat exciting finale that is far more interesting than anything preceding it. Meanwhile, the trio of women are severely underutilized and are devices for the narrative rather than actual characters.
By far the biggest factor working against A Violent Separation is its predictability making the film drag on. There is a case to be made that you have a more suspenseful film by not showing the audience that the murder was, in fact, accidental, as all that does is give the audience roughly an entire 45 minutes where they are waiting for inevitable things to occur. It’s admirable that the movie wants to function as more of a character study, but it lacks strong enough writing to do so, which is only made more frustrating by already knowing essentially everything about the narrative other than the ending.
Once again, reviewers probably won’t even care enough to reach the conclusion considering the laughably silly cause of the murder. A Violent Separation elicits unintentional dark humor more than a gripping portrait of brothers wrestling with right and wrong. The kindest thing that can be said about the movie is that it’s a solid PSA to not mess around with firearms like a moron. The rural setting (complete with some nice photography) and general concept are fine, but the execution is as off-base as accidentally firing a gun
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com