"an effective and enjoyable crime thriller"
When confronted with an important decision we often like to imagine the ways that it will play out. Sometimes the decision we make might be the right one, but we will always be plagued by thoughts of what could have been. It’s this thinking that is at the heart of Detour, an effective and enjoyable crime thriller from British director Christopher Smith.
Law student Harper is convinced that his stepfather Vincent is responsible for causing the car accident that left his mother in a deep coma. One night, Harper meets with Johnny Ray, a criminal with a volatile temper who offers to help the young man deal with his troublesome guardian. This offer soon escalates into an eventful road trip to Las Vegas that grows more complicated with every mile passed.
Tye Sheridan makes for an engaging lead as Harper, a troubled young man whose thirsts for revenge against his stepfather. Sheridan imbues the character with a sympathetic quality, but also with a hidden darker and sneaky edge that only really comes to the forefront as the plot thickens, making the character much more fascinating and complex than on first impressions.
Emory Cohen is also on fine form as Johnny Ray, a volatile thug who perpetually seems about to explode in a burst of violent rage. Foul mouthed, abusive and all-around contemptible, Cohen is a great character who you can love to hate, although his creative cursing and short temper do threaten to render the character somewhat cartoonish in his thuggishness.
Bel Powley (a familiar face to fans of The Diary of a Teenage Girl) also gives a good turn as Cherry, Johnny Ray’s prostitute girlfriend who longs to escape her unhappy life by his side. However, while Powley does a good job with her part, being likeable yet somewhat mysterious, I must admit that I found the character a tad underwritten at the expense of her male co-stars.
Director Christopher Smith’s loading the film with a great visual style littered with evocative shots of the barren desert landscapes that run the road to Las Vegas, gloomy neon-lit nightclubs and the glittering and the glittering sights of Vegas itself. In short, this very good looking film.
On a side note, I also love the film’s use of an excerpt from the 1945 film also called Detour, using the voice of that film’s lead actor Tom Neal to describe Harper’s thoughts upon meeting Cherry, in a rather clever way of drawing a parallel between the two films and their shared titles.
What I really loved about the film though is the creative fashion in which it tells its story. Early in the film, Harper is asked by Johnny Ray to imagine the hypothetical scenario’s that would arise if he accepts his offer to kill Harper’s stepfather, at which point the film splits into two narratives. In what I’ll call narrative A, Harper accepts the offer and joins Johnny Ray on a road trip to Vegas, however, in narrative B Harper rejects the offer and instead attempts to deal with his stepfather himself.
At various points, the film cleverly uses split screen to show us these two narratives playing out simultaneously with their various twists and turns. We are led to believe that this a kind of Sliding Doors, “what might’ve happened” approach, and that the viewer is to work out which narrative is reality and which is hypothetical.
However, as we begin to get used this approach, the film pulls a twist so damn impressive that I really don’t want to spoil it. Needless to say, it’s a twist that not only changes the way view Harper, but it also draws manages to draw a clever link between the two narratives.
The film is a fairly brisk affair, clocking in at about 90 minutes and while it does drag a little bit in the second half, I was still fairly engaged throughout Although, I do feel the film stretches on a bit too long, especially with a subplot involving John Lynch's Frank who Johnny Ray owes a debt to. It’s not a terrible addition but it does feel rather tacked on and by the film’s end it didn’t really feel like it mattered too much.
Detour is overall an effective crime thriller that’s perfect entertainment for those looking to kill 90 minutes. Led by fine performances, a simple plot told in an inventive fashion, a great sense of style and a fairly quick pace that keeps you engaged despite the odd sag in the middle. Check it out if you’re curious.