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DVD SAVANT

Dunsmore


Dunsmore
Image
2003 / Color/ 1:85 flat letterbox / 88 min. / Street Date February 1, 2004 / 24.99
Starring Jeanetta Arnette, Rus Blackwell, W. Earl Brown, Alicia Lagano, Barry Corbin, Kadeem Hardison, Talia Shire
Production Designer Ryan Heck
Art Direction Ian James Duncan
Film Editors Robert Gordon, Miklos Wright
Original Music Benedikt Brydern
Written by Michael Andrews
Produced by Michael Andrews, Ralph Clemente, Paul Sirmons, Peter Spirer
Directed by Peter Spirer

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

 Disclaimer

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.

Synopsis:

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 in particular.

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 and mainstream.


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, Dunsmore rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good but marginally so
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer, making of docu
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 18, 2005


Footnote:

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.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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