• 09 May - 15 May, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

It’s the kind of West Texas town you’ve seen in a thousand movies – not just tranquil but barren, stock-still, a real desolation row, like a postcard that may or may not contain living things. Michael Shannon, as a local police chief, explains that it’s the sort of small town that people once thought of as quaint: one bank, one pizza place, and so on. Except that The Quarry is one of those bone-dry minimalist dramas in which it’s hard to say whether it’s the town that’s so sparse, arid, and motionless or simply the film itself. Why is it that only five people seem to live there, and that they happen to be the only five characters in the movie? The Quarry is so diagrammed that it uses its undernourished dark-side-of-the-heartland atmosphere to excuse the fact that nothing of note is really taking place.

Shea Whigham, who can be a zesty character actor (in movies like American Hustle, First Man, and Joker), here hollows himself into a walking existential husk to play a man who is never named: some vague criminal on the run, who at a roadside diner meets Daniel Martin (Bruno Bichir), a broken-down Mexican-born reverend, heading for that town, where he has received an appointment to lead the local church. Through his drunken haze, he can sense that Whigham’s tense, hungry vagabond is up to no good. And that seals his fate – he is soon lying face down in a desert quarry, killed by shards of glass in his neck.

Is our antihero a cold psychopath, or just a desperate opportunist who has run out of options? Either way, he jumps into the van and steals his victim’s identity, showing up in town to hide out as a man of the cloth.

It sounds like the set-up for a film noir from the late 50s, but one of the beauties of good noir was the way that it found joy in depravity. The Quarry, with its stoic sinner who is out for redemption (or something), is more like Robert Duvall’s The Apostle remade as a draggy, reductive TV-movie.