A Violent Separation


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Violent Separation
"Handsomely lit and making good use of rural locations on the outskirts of New Orleans, A Violent Separation conjures up a strong sense of place and is effective in capturing the mood of the community."

Around 700 people a year are believed to die from accidental shootings in the US. It's difficult to be certain because accidents can easily look like murders, and vice versa. When Ray (Ben Robson) discharges a gun at his wife whilst trying to take it off her in a car on a bumpy road, even he's not entirely sure what happened. What he does know is that his previous criminal convictions pretty much guarantee that he wouldn't get a sympathetic hearing in court. So he tries to hide the body and then, in a panic, calls his cop brother Norman (Brenton Thwaites) to ask for his help in covering it up.

From the start, there's some heavy stereotyping here - we can tell which brother is a criminal because he has long hair, forgets to shave and hangs around without is shirt on. The cop brother doesn't look old enough to shave and has a boy scout quality that makes one wonder how he ever gets bad guys to take him seriously; the camera lingers on his cheekbones and his angst. This is one of those small towns where everybody knows everybody intimately. Norman is dating the dead wife's sister, Frances, played by Alycia Debnam-Carey who delivers a more than usually convincing portrait of grief. Initially a shy little mouse whose devotion to her man seems more about fulfilling expectations than any genuine passion, she emerges as the film's most interesting character and for a while her resistance to familiar narratives of suspicion and revenge seems to point the way to a more interesting ending. Although the film ultimately opts for a familiar resolution, it maintains a degree of ambiguity that gives it more depth.

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Handsomely lit and making good use of rural locations on the outskirts of New Orleans, A Violent Separation conjures up a strong sense of place and is effective in capturing the mood of the community, a place where kinship and loyalty are valued at least as much as federal notions of what constitutes justice. There's a patience and sympathy here that's easy to warm to and keeps one hoping for a positive outcome, but Souther charm can be deceptive. With the exception of the bond between the sisters, the women in the community are only valued - and only seem to value themselves - in terms of their relationships with men. The viewer is invited to buy into the belief that the dead woman has become little more than an inconvenience without which the male characters could easily settle their differences amicably. It's down to Debnam-Carey to convince us otherwise.

Beyond this, the morality of the tale isn't really as complex as the filmmakers seem to think and the central characters' struggles seem more a reflection of their personal shortcomings than something that will present a challenge for the viewer. The actors are all competent but the two male leads don't bring a lot of personality to their roles, whilst the script really depends on that central dynamic to give it energy. As a result the tension never really builds up as it should. This is a perfectly watchable film but not one that's likely to linger in the memory.

Reviewed on: 12 May 2019
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After a cop agrees to cover up a killing to protect his brother, who swears it was an accident, their fear of capture, remorse and crumbling trust threaten to tear their family apart.

Director: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz

Writer: Michael Arkof

Starring: Alycia Debnam-Carey, Ted Levine, Brenton Thwaites, Claire Holt, Gerald McRaney

Year: 2019

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: US


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