Dark Country actor Thomas Jane’s first venture behind the camera as director, and although the final product is a bit muddy and perplexing, it also creates an atmosphere of impenetrable mental fog and noxious delirium that’s in itself a success, even if the whole thing amounts to a big question mark. Jane has already proved to be a stalwart action hero, charismatic leading man and talented performer (anyone raising their hand to disagree with me gets a copy of Mark Pellington’s I Melt With You hucked across the classroom right at their head). Working off a script from veteran writer Tab Murphy, Jane concocts what can only be described as a Twilight Zone episode on opiates, with a hint of sketchy Midnite Movie added for flavour. Does it work? Yes and no. The story is nearly indecipherable except to someone glued to the screen inches away, kept abreast of every minute plot shift and disorienting, mumbled bit of dialogue. Jane and Lauren German play a couple driving from somewhere to somewhere, who encounter a freaky, whacked out hitchhiker (Chris Browning) somewhere around the Nevada desert. He’s bloodied up something fierce, babbling on about nothing and from the moment he arrives, their turns turns dour. It’s anyone’s guess what goes on from there… a dead body they must contend with, a suspicious state trooper (nice Ron Perlman cameo) on their tail, flashbacks to a weird encounter at a desolate roadside diner, ever creeping fog that seems to have followed Jane over from Stephen King’s The Mist to wreak more havoc, and so it goes. Plot is of little importance to him as a director though, and instead he seems more intent on clouding up the viewer’s perception of events until it’s more like a shadowy fever dream full of dead ends and few answers. An atmosphere piece with a logic tank that’s run dry, but succeeds in whipping up a neat nightmarish road trip through confusion and paranoia, if not much else.
Tab Murphy’s Last Of The Dogmen is a beautiful story, providing assurance that on a rapidly shrinking modern world there can still be some undiscovered wonder to be found, sometimes in the last place anyone would look. Tom Berenger, gruff as ever, stars as Lewis Gates, a rural bounty hunter charged with pursuing a gaggle of escaped felons who’ve hightailed it into Montana wilderness so dense that the usual branches of law can’t track them. Joined by his anthropologist friend (Barbara Hershey), he searches day and night for these convicts, and in the process finds something far more incredible. Buried far in the heart of this mostly untouched frontier is a tribe of Native Americans, thought to be wiped out by settlers generations earlier, living since then with no contact to the outside world. Gates is wary but fascinated, while Hershey recognizes this for the miracle it is and tries her best to communicate with the people, who in turn are fiercely protective of their land, especially towards the escaped prisoners who have wandered onto it as well. Hot on Berenger’s tail as well is his ex father in law (Kurtwood Smith) who is also the county Sheriff, bitter towards him for a past tragedy, volatile and unpredictable, another risky faction to flare up conflict between all sides. The action is kept to a necessary minimum, and the real meat of the piece lies in the pure spectacle of their situation, a reverence for both parties involved and a keen eye for interaction between human beings who couldn’t be more different yet have shared the same region for eons. The Native actors, including Sidel Standing Elk, Dawn Lavand, Eugene Blackbear and Steve Reevis, are all superb, as are Berenger and Smith. The real magic comes cascading through the lens of cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub, who beautifully captures Banff National Park in it’s full glory, as well as other such locations not far from my Canadian home. The film hangs onto the notion that there is still undiscovered splendour out there, from rushing rivers to ancient mountains, and the mysterious tribes who once, and perhaps still do, call it home.