Dry River Road (October 27th 2009)
Leo Whitlock, the main character of Rory Haines’ short Dry River Road, is clearly a very troubled man.
He is living out of his car, shaving in the bathroom at a highway petrol station, and lying to his estranged wife about his (un)employment status. The reason for this, we don’t know. He is a veteran of the Iraq war, this much we do know, but after that it all becomes a bit muddy.
Is he a violent man? His constant badgering of Akeem for a job at said petrol station is pushy enough that it borders on the “one more rejection and he might just lamp you” side of things, but his absolute horror at what later happens might equally suggest otherwise.
He certainly isn’t the smartest man around; stealing money from a dead man, smearing blood on himself and tucking the murder weapon into his jeans doesn’t suggest that all his bulbs are burning at their brightest, but maybe he is really just that desperate.
Perhaps Leo has been dishonourably discharged from the US Army. This could explain his apparent lack of self-discipline (and vice-versa). It would also go some way to explaining why he is having such a hard time finding a job.
A dishonourable discharge may even account for the lack of contact with his wife and son, and why his wife has no interest in entertaining him at all.
Of course, what it all comes down to is whether or not Leo could ever make anything of himself. There is absolutely nothing here to suggest that he is comfortable with meeting the standards that society expects of him.
The case in point: his attire. He has gone to Akeem to ask for a job, but has completely neglected to spruce himself up in any effort to impress his prospective employer.
His absolute lack of respect for Akeem is symptomatic of something altogether more sinister. While we aren’t told of Akeem’s heritage, it is safe to assume that he is of Middle Eastern origin, and the underlying menace of the interaction between the two comes from Leo’s instinct to play with a small American flag while talking to Akeem.
Leo may not consider himself a racist, but his actions in the scene convey a sense of racial tension that could explain everything about Leo and his character.
The thirteen minutes that we see here are the thirteen minutes that change the life of Leo. The lack of any sort of “crash bang wallop” force-feeding of dramatic impact is one of the film’s major strengths.
Through both the way it is shot – conventional, trendy handheld style – and the lack of dictatorial music, the film manages to achieve both a subtlety and a harrowing bleakness that takes it to a higher level, particularly impressive given it is a first time effort from Haines, as well as a first time effort for writer Sohrab Noshirvani.