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With: Shannyn Sossamon, Tygh Runyan, Cliff De Young, Waylon Payne, Dominique Swain, Rob Kolar, Michael Bigham, Mallory Culbert, John Diehl, Lathan McKay, Bonnie Pointer, Gregory Rentis, Fabio Testi
Written by: Steven Gaydos
Directed by: Monte Hellman
MPAA Rating: R for some language and brief violence
Running Time: 121
Date: 09/10/2010
IMDB

Road to Nowhere (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Behind the Means

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If there were any justice in the world, a new feature film by Monte Hellman would get as much attention as Terrence Malick's new film. Hellman began his filmmaking career back in the 1950s, working for Roger Corman, and made his directing debut in 1959. Since then, Hellman has only completed 11 feature films, not counting uncredited touch-up work on other films, or a producing gig on Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, and not counting a short segment for the horror anthology film Trapped Ashes (2006). That's 11 feature films in over 50 years, and only 3 films in the last 30 years. There was Iguana in 1988, Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! in 1989, and now Road to Nowhere.

It goes without saying that Road to Nowhere is a distinct improvement over those last two, and perhaps even a return to form. But it still has the power to leave audiences disoriented, just as Hellman's best films Ride in the Whirlwind (1965), The Shooting (1967), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), and Cockfighter (1974) once did. Those films eventually found some respect, and I hope that someday Road to Nowhere will join them.

We meet respected filmmaker Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan) who is readying his next film, ostensibly a "comeback." It's based on a true story, a crime covered by pretty blogger Nathalie Post (Dominique Swain). While casting, Haven comes across a tape of a striking young woman (Shannyn Sossamon) with only one low-budget horror movie to her name, but he sees something in her and offers her the job. We see images of the completed movie crossed with real-life, and Hellman deliberately blurs the lines between the two. Meanwhile, a pesky insurance investigator, Bruno Brotherton (Waylon Payne), decides that something is fishy. Cliff De Young also stars as an actor playing the male lead in the fictional movie.

In some ways, Road to Nowhere revisits some of the themes of doubling Hellman used in The Shooting, and it very definitely uses Hellman's trademark of exploring unspoken exchanges between humans. Additionally, it strikes a peculiar contrast between emotions that are generated by cinema and those generated by real life. In several scenes, Haven and his new femme fatale lie in bed and watch movies on TV (The Lady Eve, The Seventh Seal, and Spirit of the Beehive) each time finding some new emotional high. And Sossamon delivers a mysterious allure at every given moment, illustrating just how a director could fall in love with his actress while watching her on film. (If this movie had a wider release, it could make her a major star.)

The insurance investigator character is the only one concerned with what the "true story" actually is, but it's clear by the end that there is no true story, and there can never be one. Indeed, audiences that are caught up on solving the "mystery" will probably miss out on the ideas generated while getting there, and may well be disappointed on first viewing. In this fashion the movie is similar to David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" series, where the marketing focused on "who killed Laura Palmer," even though that was hardly the point.

Even the portrait of the movie industry in general seems fairly accurate for a man that has not worked in it in 20 years. It's not that Hellman has not wanted or tried to work; he's just one of those guys with bad luck, bad timing, bad business sense, or all three. His movies are exploitation movies on one hand, but also complex, deeply intellectual art movies on the other hand. They generally don't make much money and demand more than one viewing to fully appreciate. Cult movie fans have enjoyed doing just that with Two-Lane Blacktop and the others, and it would be great if Road to Nowhere had the same kind of consideration.

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