SURE FIRE(director/writer: Jon Jost; cinematographer: Jon Jost; editor: Jon Jost; music: Jon A. English; cast: Tom Blair (Wess), Robert Ernst (Larry), Dennis Brown (Dennis), Kaye Evans (Kaye), Phillip R. Brown (Phillip), Kristi Hager (Bobbi), Kate Dezina (Ellen), Rick Blackwell (Dick); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Henry Rosenthal; Strand Releasing; 1990)
“A morbid tale about a successful, driven small-town real estate man.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Indie director Jon Jost (” Last Chants for a Slow Dance”/”The Bed You Sleep In”) presents a morbid tale about a successful, driven small-town real estate man, Wes (Tom Blair), who is an old-fashioned patriarch with an overbearing personality, a love for guns (his best friend is a gun) and is someone who can’t accept rejection. Wes says at one point something that sums up what he’s all about: “There are two sides to every coin: win and lose.” It’s set in contemporary rural Utah, and beautifully captures the golden autumnal leaf colors. It’s punctuated by strangely haunting music and three unusual quotes from Mormon scriptures.
In the Circle Valley Cafe Wes and his economically hard-pressed third-generation rancher neighbor Larry (Robert Ernst) leisurely chew the fat over coffee talking about local gossip and mundane things, with Wes arranging for Larry to pickup for his 16-year-old son Phillip (Phillip R. Brown) a rifle for his first hunt. In a grandiose gesture, Wes pays Larry’s tab at the diner and rushes off to see the bank manager named Dick (Rick Blackwell). Wes in the hopes of going partners with the banker excitedly tells him about his latest “sure fire” scheme to lure urban Californians to his rural Utah town of Circleville to buy cheap vacation homes with the promise of clean air, no crime and beautiful pristine mountains. Dick, however, remains noncommittal. When Wes learns Larry hasn’t paid off a loan to the bank, he unhesitatingly pays it off for him in the hopes of getting Larry to work with him on his pet project. At home Wes’ wife Bobbi (Kristi Hager) regretfully reflects on her growing weariness. The ensuing silence in the cheerless home is broken only by the rotten news coming from the TV. To understand why Wes is resented by family and friends alike, go no further than the heavy-handed talk he gives Phillip on how to manipulate the supposedly lazy handyman into tidying up a house he has on the market for a prospective buyer. Wes belittles both the handyman and his son and does it without consideration for anyone else, as he unthinkingly imposes his will on others.
On the annual hunting trip, where father and son are joined by pop’s longtime friends Larry and Dennis (Dennis Brown), the son has to hear a humiliating stern lecture on rifle safety in front of the others delivered without humor by dad and then be told he can’t join his mom who is planning to escape her seeming imprisonment to California. The climax will be a shocker that tries to link violence, capitalism and the western individualism together as sources of trouble brewing underneath the pleasant landscapes and the seemingly ideal western lifestyle. The climax leaves everyone wondering what the hell has happened to lead to such a tragic outcome.
This highly accomplished low budget film was made by Jost with a crew of two: himself and a soundman. It basks in its naturalism and in its sincere performances, an especially captivating one by Blair, to tell its contemporary American western tale as if it were a Shakespearean tragedy. It’s for Jost both a personal and compelling film, but its weakness is that it’s unable to be a “sure fire” deal closer.
REVIEWED ON 4/1/2006 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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