Brut Force


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Brut Force
"Mistakes and moral compromises are everywhere amongst Symington’s troubled characters." | Photo: XYZ Films

Ask most people who don’t live there to picture California and one of two things will come to mind for them: Hollywood or the beach. There’s a great deal to the state beyond that, however, and one of its most celebrated regions is its wine country, home to a wealthy elite and a luxury holiday destination for others. It’s admired for its beauty and for the contrast it presents with the hectic pace of life elsewhere. This is the setting for Eve Symington’s début feature, a noirish thriller played out in golden sunshine which peels back the skin to find corruption underneath.

Symington’s strongest asset in this film is her sister, Lelia Symington, who take on the leading role of Sloane, a journalist who was recently fired and has agreed to return to her hometown in response to concerns about how migrant workers are being treated there. Following a series of threats and violent incidents largely ignored by the authorities, they are hoping that she will be able to help them. She is hoping to get a good story with which to relaunch her career. But there are other forces at work, from local people resentful of the presence of outsiders to wealthy vineyard owners anxious to control the lives of their labourers. Disputes over the ownership of land go back for generations and pretty soon our heroine is out of her depth.

With a troubled past, disrupted family relationships and a habit of trying to solve problems with violence (a trait we rarely see in women onscreen, though it’s not all that unusual in the real world), Sloane is a natural noir heroine, often screwing up good opportunities because she’s easily knocked off keel. Her reputation for getting physical intimidates some of those around her but doesn’t make her impervious to harm. In one scene, she stumbles and falls over at a critical moment, changing the course of events. It’s something that might happen to anyone but, again, it’s rare onscreen. We are made acutely aware of how human she is in a context where the humanity of those around her is, one way or another, called into question.

Mistakes and moral compromises are everywhere amongst Symington’s troubled characters. It quickly becomes apparent the Sloane is not going to save anyone – at least not in the way she imagined – and that she doesn’t fully understand the issues which the migrants are facing. The director gives moments of violence more impact by keeping them to a minimum, even when threats abound. Emilie Silvestri, a cinematographer with whom she has previously collaborated on shorts, shoots the landscape as if for a tourism advert only to reel back and capture that odd quality of light, unique to California, which makes the place look slightly unreal. It’s a trick which John A Alonzo used to great effect in Chinatown and it’s not the only echo of that film to be found here, but although Brut Force is full of familiar genre tropes, it isn’t derivative. There’s a specificity about its characters and a thought-through complexity to their disparate motives which keeps it feeling real.

Despite all this, the film doesn’t quite come alive as it should, nor does the payoff make the lingering impression it seems to be aiming for. There’s lots of good work - not least Ali Helnwein's lush original score - and it’s a satisfying watch, yet it feels as if the ideas underlying it haven’t quite come to fruition. The issue here is the script, which, in packing in the requisite twists and turns, hasn’t left room to substantiate key components of the story which it relies on towards the end. This is a common problem in thrillers but there’s enough talent on display in Brut Force to suggest that it ought to achieve something more.

Whilst it may not quite deliver as hoped, this film is an impressive calling card and an effective reminder, in an era when tensions around migration are higher than ever, that all that glitters is not golden.

Reviewed on: 20 Apr 2022
Share this with others on...
Brut Force packshot
Newly-fired reporter Sloane Sawyer reluctantly returns to her rural California hometown to investigate the harassment of local vineyard workers and uncovers a tangled web of crime and corruption.

Director: Eve Symington

Writer: Eve Symington

Starring: Lelia Symington, Tyler Posey, Lilian Tapia, Marcos de los Santos, Sidney Symington, Mariela Vicuña

Year: 2022

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US


Search database:

Related Articles:

Vintage filmmaking