...you’ve watched two completely different movies
SOUTH OF HEAVEN (2021)
Detouring slightly from their usual foray of action-packed, revenge thrillers, the team behind such films as Big Bad Wolves and Gunpowder Milkshake have taken a step back from the intensity and have attempted to create a slower, more romantic character driven piece with South of Heaven. What starts as a truly sweet romantic tale, however soon begins to harken back to the filmmakers more “crime” based roots in a movie that’s tone shift works against its entertainment factor.
Set in the beautiful countryside of Texas, director Aharon Kershales captures the serenity of the locations wonderfully on camera. When set as the backdrop to the rekindling romance of our two lead characters, it creates a sweet tone to the film. And then later on in the film, acts as a juxtaposition to the intensity and violence.
However, aside from some noticeably neat camera shots (one involving a mirror capturing two actors in different places within a room), the direction feels slightly stale and doesn’t feel alive within the movie, rather it is just literally capturing the characters in tripod locked shots.
South of Heaven is the story of convicted felon, Jimmy (Jason Sudekis), who has been released on early parole after a 12-year stint for armed robbery. Jimmy comes home to his sweetheart, Annie (Evangeline Lilly), who only has a year to live after a life-altering lung cancer diagnosis.
Filled with regret that he hasn’t been able to be with Annie, Jimmy decides that he must give her the best final year of her life, which is a task easier said than done when he is offered work by his corrupt parole officer named, Schmidt (Shea Whigham).
The first act of this film establishes quite a nice romance between Jimmy and Annie, one that is believable and charming. The story however shifts tones dramatically with the second act, becoming more of a crime-thriller after Jimmy is involved in an accident that has ramifications in the local crime ring.
The shift in tones is abrupt, the movie doesn’t transition into this new genre overly well, even with the allusions early on regarding Jimmy’s criminal past. The investment into the romance side of things works so well that it’s almost a little disappointing that it is thrown to the wayside for a more crime-thriller centric film.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
If you’ve seen Ted Lasso, you already know the extent of Jason Sudekis’ acting ability outside of SNL or We’re The Millers, and in this film he is able to show off even more of that dramatic range. Incredibly subdued in his demeanour, Sudekis has an affinity and charm inside of a broken man who struggles to come to terms with his guilt. Then when the film requires Jimmy to harken back to his criminal past, Sudekis manages to balance the charm and criminal aspects of his character reasonably well.
On the flip side, Lilly adopts the ‘happy-go-lucky’ vibe as Annie is at the point where she is at full acceptance of her fate. She is the driving heart of their story and their love. Both Sudekis and Lilly work together well and share enjoyable on screen chemistry.
The opposing forces of the romance include the characters of Schimdt, Shea Whigham delivers a strong and infuriating performance as a parole officer who knows the extent of his power over Jimmy and local crime boss, Price, played with intimidatingly masculine suave by Mike Coltor. Everytime the movie delivers a sweet moment between Jimmy and Annie, these antagonists are there to cause havoc.
Even when the film shifts in tone and genre into a more inconsistent fare, the performances stay consistent with the characters themselves.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Aside from the occasional act of violence, there isn’t much to say regarding the visual flair of South of Heaven. It’s a simple film that uses simple camera work and effects to tell it’s story. However, there is one moment in which a character has his throat slashed, and the obvious prosthetic (and what seemed like a delay in the release of the blood effects) made for an unintentionally laughable moment.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
A country-music style score filled with mellowed piano and lightly struck acoustic guitar riffs by David Fleming make up the majority of South of Heaven’s score, and while it suits the movie's aesthetic, there was no song in particular that stood out from the rest. It’s just a simple style that suits the simple natured vibe.
South of Heaven starts off well, with a relationship between Sudekis’ Jimmy and Lilly’s Annie that you can genuinely be invested in. But not before long, the movie switches it’s tone and unfortunately loses its heart with generic crime-thriller trops and bland filmmaking. By the time the film is over, you feel like you’ve watched two completely different movies.