Downeast

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Downeast
"After a slow start, this is a film that draws you in."

Gritty. Sombre. Grey. Literally, very grey, because this is Portland, Maine: the cold, northern, almost Canadian bit of the USA where men are men and, seemingly, lobsters are the only business in town. Well, lobsters, and drugs. Because smuggling your contraband in lobster pots is the way to go.

Downeast is the very downbeat tale of a cold case murder. Mikey (Spencer Watson) and Tommy (Greg Finley) are best of buddies: Tommy is on the verge of dating Mikey’s sister, Emma (Dylan Silver). Then tragedy strikes. Mikey is murdered, in an incident that “no-one knows nuffink about.” Unless you count small fish crime lord Kerrigan (Judson Mills) or his homicidal henchperson Brennan (Joss Glennie-Smith). But they’re not saying neither!

It’s as you’d expect in a community where every other person connects to organised crime in one way or another: either working for the local boss or in his debt for reasons of drink, drugs or gambling.

Emma is traumatised and leaves town. Tommy clams up. As far as detective Willis (Joe Holt) is concerned, this is just another of those things. The best you can expect when the mob is on your doorstep and no-one dare open their mouth about what’s going on for fear of consequences.

Into this frozen waste, and seven years on, Emma returns. She starts asking questions. Awkward questions. Slowly, because in films like this the crime folk never do the sensible thing – which is nothing – small cracks start to appear in the façade of respectability. Here, a small pebble of truth is dislodged. There a gobbet of guilt. The avalanche begins.

In its path stand all those who had hoped that through their silence some semblance of normality might be maintained.

After a slow start, this is a film that draws you in. It is not terribly original in terms of plot (how many times have we dealt with the trope of the relative returned, stirring stuff up and upsetting the lobster pot?). Still, it features a number of interesting characters, economically drawn. Their responses to the moral dilemma in which they find themselves would have had Hamlet stumped. “To squeal or not to squeal? That is the question.”

How it ends would be a spoiler too far. Suffice to say that in its fatalistic view of crime and society, Downeast does not end on an altogether upbeat note. There is a calculated realism to it, not just in the way it depicts and develops its characters, but also in the way it deals with choices in a world where no choice is entirely good.

Did I mention it is grey? That would be in part because of the Portland location, which, according to director, Joe Raffa, acts as another character in the film, and a crucial one. The title is, itself, reference to the (Down East) region, which is how Maine folk refer to the state’s far eastern coast.

Further local links are provided by lead actor Greg Finley and cinematographer and producer Edwin Stevens, both from Maine. For them, making Portland the stage on which Downeast is set provided an authenticity and atmosphere unmatchable anywhere else.

Perhaps it does. At any rate, this is not just another slick sunny concoction played out against the mean streets of New York (or boulevards of LA).

About the only time the sun appears is in a flashback to a kinder, gentler time, when Emma and Tommy were almost an item and they could still take time out to frolic on a beach.

Not merely gritty and grey, but gripping, too. There are no great heroics. Just lowkey engaging performances all round. Also, a certain amount of rather too realistic violence for my liking. Briefly, I looked away. On the other hand, I am squeamish.

A good watch if you like crime drama that is about ordinary, everyday people.

Reviewed on: 13 Jul 2021
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A story of love, loss, and redemption in the seedy underbelly of Maine.

Director: Joe Raffa

Writer: Greg Finley, Joe Raffa

Starring: Greg Finley, Dylan Silver, Judson Mills, Joss Glennie=Smith, Gareth Williams, Kirk Fox, Joe Holt

Year: 2021

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US

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