Road to Nowhere (2011)

Directed by Monte Hellman
Written by Steven Gaydos

Every year there is an astronomical number of films that fly under the radar and don’t get wide releases. Many times it is because they just aren’t up to par with everything else that does get released. Let’s face it, some bad films get made and because they’re bad they don’t get seen. But then there are also those that are deemed to niche to get a wide release or are just too small. Some of these films are also, well, not good, but every once in a while you get a gem, a surprise, something that forgoes the underwhelming expectations. Road to Nowhere I had never heard of, I don’t think it got a release in my area, and I have no idea how it ended up on my queue. Even the names involved in the project don’t jump out at me, but the film certainly did.

The plot is simple, but at the same time quite cryptic. Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan) is a decent Hollywood director, and for his next film he has decided to tackle a real life political thriller. He gets big name Cary Stewart (why not name him Grant James?) to play the lead, Rafe Tachen, who got caught by blogger Nathalie (Dominique Swain) in something about land which netted Tachen $150 million. Then there is Wilma, who is connected to Tachen. Haven calls upon an unknown actress (Shannyn Sossamon) to play Wilma, but when consultant Bruno (Waylon Payne) starts to suspect that the unknown is not acting, the film and the film inside the film take a whole new meaning.

The film has a certain feel to it. I would probably most closely associate it to David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., which had a made for TV thriller feel to it. Road to Nowhere, directed by Monte Hellman has that same feel, but at the same time, the cinematography manages to be great. It isn’t the pretty location photography that got me this time, but the composition and style was just outstanding for the film. But at the bottom of the whole film is the vision of Hellman and his editor, Celine Ameslon. There are some lingering shots, but just the way the film is put together really adds a whole different dimension to the film and how the viewer is able, or not able, to figure out what is going on.

The confusion is intentional. The film starts off with Nathalie interviewing Mitchell about the filming of the movie after it was over, but then we see scenes from the actual real life political mess between Rafe and Wilma, and we also see scenes from the film as they are being filmed, but the manner in which it is edited makes it mesh together into one big storyline, so you cannot tell what is real what is film or even if there is a difference between the two. For that reason the film is brilliant. It takes a simple movie within a movie concept and layers it multiple times to the point that the viewer has trouble deciphering the reality from the acting. Brilliant, but it also asks a lot of the actors, especially Shannyn Sossamon, who I had only seen in pop romance’s like A Knight’s Tale before this.

Because of the nature of her role, Sossamon must convince us that she is Wilma and she is acting at the same time. It takes a subtle touch, but she does a great job. There really is not much I can find to complain about the film. It is so well structured, even having the fake movie credits at the beginning instead of the actual credits. It really did surprise me, and maybe my lower expectations added to my being impressed as much as I was. It is not the best film of the year, but it is a good one that makes you think and involves you in the process.

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