Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
It used to be that movies produced in the South were practically invisible elsewhere, rarely
landing wide distribution. With the growing status of independent film, the occasional regional
production does break through. Dunsmore was made by professionals in Florida and guided
by a director and writer from California known mostly for their work in documentaries. Peter
Spirer has been Oscar nominated in the docu category and had a commercial success when Miramax
picked up his rap docu Rhyme & Reason in 1997. His dramatic feature debut is a Walking
Tall - like tale of the limits of justice in a small Southern town, where a self-styled
"Bastard of the County" terrorizes the populace while breaking the law with virtual impugnity.
The tight budget barely shows, and the director generously allows several unheralded actors to
shine in impressive performances.
Local bad boy turned criminal thug Ronny Roy Pritcher (W. Earl Brown, who played
Meat Loaf in a television movie) steals, cheats and more or less bullies his way through life,
dealing out cruel beatings at his pleasure and using intimidation to silence potential witnesses.
He's already suspected in the deaths of several people, including old Sheriff Breen (Barry Corbin)
and Reverend Borland (Brett Rice), but there is never enough evidence to bring him to trial.
Ronny Roy even gets away with having two wives. His first, Irma (Jeanetta Arnette) has been
thoroughly terrorized into submitting to whatever Ronny Roy wants, which includes a thirteen-year-old
common law bride who still sucks her thumb, Ruby (Alicia Lagano). One night Ronny Roy emerges drunk
from a bar and is shot dead in a hail of gunfire. Sheriff Cal Miller (Rus Blackwell) and
State Investigator Walter Taylor (Kadeem Hardison) investigate what has to be the work of a number
of people, but nobody in the town will admit to knowing anything.
Based on a true incident from about twenty years ago, Dunsmore examines the chemistry in
a new-era Southern hamlet where justice is applied by the rule of law instead of the old traditional
"community standards" practice, the kind in which the local sheriff might frequently bend the
rules in favor of the prevailing values of the populace. That kind of vigilantism often went
hand in hand with other forms of corruption, and was the main bulwark against racial equality -
no matter what the law said, the powers that be would decide details like who voted and who didn't.
Troublemakers might find themselves beaten to a pulp and deposited outside the county line, and
really serious offenders such as Dunsmore's Ronny Ray Pritcher might disappear altogether.
When things are run strictly by the rule book, completely unscrupulous thugs like Ronny Roy prosper.
Citizens fear for their lives should they complain to the police or testify against him in
any way. It's no wonder that he repeatedly gets away with murder.
Writer Michael Andrews shows Ronny Roy gunned down by what seem to be a dozen unidentifiable people
in the very first scene. Dunsmore then takes on an investigatory plotline as an outsider
(Kadeem Hardison, the only black actor in the film) interviews the locals to find out the secret
behind Ronny Roy's killing. Except for the dead man's Baby Doll - like child bride Ruby, the
entire town seems to approve of the killing. The stories they tell (handled in effective flashbacks)
all depict Ronny Roy as a vicious predator and petty tyrant. Just to keep things clear, Ronny Roy
is shown torturing animals as a child. In a more recent episode, he kills a kid's dog over a
scratch on the paint job of his fancy truck.
All of this extreme behavior is made credible through the good direction of capable actors. W. Earl
Brown is chilling as the massive, loutish Ronny Roy, described by one of his own wives as "The
Devil Himself." Second honors go to Jeanetta Arquette as his first wife Irma. The almost ludicrous
situation of having one's husband show up with another wife barely older than his oldest daughter
("She'll be able to help out; you'll always be number one") is the most original scene in the
show, as Ronny Roy first bullies and then threatens Irma to enforce his new living arrangement.
Rus Blackwell's evenhanded
Sheriff is split between his higher ethics and the knowledge that simply killing Ronny Roy earlier
would have spared the town a lot of grief. It's a feeling that audiences will share.
The more familiar actors Talia Shire and Barry Corbin are compartmentalized in serviceable but
predictable roles, and thus have less impact than the relative unknowns. A look at the IMDB shows a
substantial number of solid credits for players Jeanetta Arnette, Rus Blackwell and W. Earl Brown
Director Peter Spirer shows a good touch with the dramatic situations and his montage style of
cutting to establish the town and countryside is effective if familiar. The picture ends with a
rebirth of a "kinder and gentler" form of vigilantism. But although Dunsmore is ambivalent
on the issue it doesn't endorse community lawlessness as do so many American films both regional
Image's disc of Dunsmore is a satisfactory but not outstanding encoding of a movie that
was well-shot in 35mm in Florida in 2002. Color is excellent in the non-ehnhanced image but the
bit rate isn't quite high enough to keep some small details from fractilizing when the show is
displayed on a home theater monitor. On smaller screens the flaws probably won't show, but there
are a lot of beautiful forest exteriors that suffer, particularly an idyllic scene where Ruby
climbs a tree. The audio is a mix of dramatic cues and good Country-inflected tunes.
Besides a promo trailer, the main extra is a making-of docu that plays like an EPK piece. We
get to see some scenes being set up such as the elaborate blast-down of Ronny Roy, and see what
the actors and their soft-spoken director are like. As a promo piece meant to spur sales, it's
fairly shallow, but it's good to have a behind-the-scenes record for a modest picture like
this one. 1
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good but marginally so
Supplements: trailer, making of docu
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 18, 2005
1. Disclaimer: Savant
knows the director of Dunsmore, contributed some editorial advice after filming was
completed, and was not part of the making of the film.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson