Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On his own: Thomas Haden Church scores big in Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais' film, WHITEWASH

What a genuinely interesting actor is Thomas Haden Church. He seems to work consistently (57 credits -- TV and film -- over 25 years). He pops up all over the place: Right now he's in the hot new Christian movie, Heaven Is for Real, as well as the film under consideration here. If smash roles like the one he had in Sideways don't come along that often, Mr. Church is never less than a pleasure to watch in just about anything. One of those really good roles is his once again, as WHITEWASH, an oddly appealing Canadian movie from co-writer (with Marc Tulin) and director, Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, makes its straight-to-VOD debut this week, after winning M. Hoss-Desmarais the Best New Narrative Director award at last year's Tribeca Film Fest.

The filmmaker, shown at right, has bitten off quite a dark tale -- one of those designed to absolutely prove that no good deed shall go unpunished -- but he and M. Tulin, together with their on-screen-nearly-every-moment star, handle everything with such a light touch that, remarkably, we never feel bogged down in sorrow and depression.

You cannot in good faith call Whitewash a comedy, not even a black one, and yet it glides over some appalling stuff with such ease and near-charm that you can't call it a thriller, tragedy or even drama, either. In fact, the movie is pretty close to one-of-a-kind, anchored by Church's "everyman" performance -- if everyman were really unlucky.

The movie begins on a snow-stormy night when, almost immediately, something awful happens. What is particularly strange about this something awful is that we do not see it from  the POV we expect. Why, we wonder? Even so, we hope or maybe know that, somehow, this will eventually be revealed.

It is, along with a lot more. Little by little, as something in the present -- peeing, for instance -- induces a remembrance of things past, we learn what happened and why. The story is full of ironies, and though the character Church plays -- a forced-out-of-work snow-plow driver named Bruce -- may not be the brightest bulb on the block, even he can appreciate the irony in his current situation: a kind of man-against-the-elements and man-against-himself.

The only other character of note is the odd fellow Bruce gets involved with: Paul, played awfully well, in mystery mode, by Marc Labrèche (at left). There are some other, minor characters, but this is really all Mr. Church's movie, and he aces it. What makes him such an interesting actor is how little effort he must put out to nail an emotion, a moment, an entire scene. The actor is remarkably agile in finding the right expression, tone, stance. His role as Bruce is a particularly physical one, strenuous and deflating, and Church uses his craggy-but-handsome features and thick-but-agile body to very good purpose.

To say more of the plot would simply spoil some of the surprise of Hoss-Desmarais' movie, which succeeds in finding a smart balance of realism and deadpan, darkness and humor. If the above sounds interesting, take a chance on Whitewash. From Oscilloscope and running 90 minutes, the film hits VOD this Friday, May 2, in most major markets -- and is already available via iTunes.

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