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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dixieland
Dixieland
MPI Home Video // Unrated // April 5, 2016
List Price: $24.98
Review by Scott Pewenofkit | posted April 20, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie
Dixieland uses the Star-Crossed Lovers motif to explore the lives of people who dwell in the criminal underworld and struggle to find a place of their own in a world that doesn't easily forgive ex-cons. The day he's released from prison, Kermit (Chris Zylka) is immediately drawn back into the criminal element when he is asked to make a run for local drug dealers. Only hours after being released, he meets Rachel (Riley Keough), who takes up stripping to help pay her mother's medical bills. Kermit agrees to make a drug run that will put enough money in his pocket to help Rachel and her mother. Dixieland's narrative is driven by Rachel and Kermit's relationship, which is sparked by an intense attraction between the two and hinges upon the notion that people who have broken the law can be redeemed by performing good acts.

Dixieland opens with documentary-style interview footage of the real-life denizens of a crime and poverty-stricken small town in Mississippi. The interviews correspond to the narrative and become increasingly poignant as the film progresses. After the first interview clips of Dixieland, Zylka as Kermit is then shown working in a prison yard on the day of his release while a fat guard antagonizes him by reminding him that it will only be a matter of time before he sees him again.

Immediately upon his release, Kermit struggles against the cyclical nature of life as an ex-con trying to leave behind the criminal acts that led to his incarceration. By the time he meets Rachel during his first night of freedom in the outside world, Kermit has already met up with Clay (Davis Cannada) and CJ (RJ Mitte), two of the principle players in a drug money exchange orchestrated to set up Kermit. Repeating to himself the cliched false promise uttered in so many crime movies that this will be his last big score, Kermit plans to use the money paid to him in the drug exchange to help Rachel, who lies to her sick mother about her job as a stripper. Rachel and Kermit are two people in love trying to claw their way to a better life, fighting against the personal and systemic hurdles that keep them mired in poverty. As an act of love, Kermit circles back to his criminal tendencies to start a new life because it's the best he can do to support the people he cares about.

Before it's over, the film suddenly exudes a sense of hope before its tragic ending thrusts Dixieland back into the dismal realism that the film convincingly conveys. However, the drab realism of the film is redeemed by Rachel's decision to escape her circumstances. Dixieland has the usual realist filmmaking tendencies of certain other Southern-set movies, such as Hustle and Flow, David Gordon Green's George Washington, Shotgun Stories and every other Jeff Nichols-directed film, but the film maintains the rare balancing act between using pseudo-documentary style to achieve sympathetic portrayals of people down on their luck and creating poverty porn exploitation.

As a criminal and ex-con, Kermit seems harmless. Zylka plays his role with confidence and convincing assertiveness, but the softer edges of his performance, which make him stick out slightly from the gritty setting of the story, contribute to the humanistic qualities and sympathy that the film evokes.

Dixieland's visual style, like the aforementioned George Washington, mixes realist acting, naturalistic settings and lyrical tendencies that soften its crime film edge and give it a dreamy quality that is evocative of the Terrence Malick-inspired style of Green's film. Cinematographer Tobias Datum uses the lurid glow of street lights, broken neon signs and sunlight pouring through the drab dimness of trailer home bedroom windows to create a world that looks realistic yet seems to float freely with the hopes and wishes of its characters. The floating, dream-like quality of the Datum's cinematography and the film's expressive lighting are used to great effect when Kermit finally finishes his drug run. Through the film's free-floating cinematography and jump-cut editing, visual representations of Kermit's and Rachel's hopes and wishes for a better life are expressed in a dream sequence with simple shots of the two sharing small moments together, which are intercut with Kermit driving down the road. This Kuleshov-like editing technique nicely distills Dixieland's themes of renewal and love.

The DVD
Video: Dixieland was shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It's cinematography, consisting of realist and lyrical visual elements, looks particularly nice on large HD screens. IFC's DVD of the film has been transferred nicely.

The deleted scenes section of Dixieland is brief and mostly insignificant, but there is a short interview clip of a real-life drug dealer who recounts an interesting story in which a spiked drink at a strip club led to a car crash in which he broke his neck. There was presumably more interview footage with the real-life subjects that appear in the film and their personal stories would have been an interesting film in their own right. Sadly, the DVD only contains this verys short clip.

Audio: There is a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, and with a nice stereo system, the viewer will be able to enjoy Dixieland's languid, moody musical score. An alternate audio track contains a commentary between Bedford and Zylka that is insignificant because it will not add anything significant to the viewing experience. There are also English subtitles.

Final Thoughts:
Selling drugs and obtaining large amounts of cash have always been imperatives in crime movies, but Dixieland takes this notion one step further by suggesting that there must be more at stake. As another real-life drug dealer puts it near the end of Dixieland regarding the criminal's drive for money, "if you don't have a purpose for what you're doing, there is no point." Kermit turns to his criminal ways to help someone he loves. Dixieland refutes the empty pursuit of money by showing Kermit running drugs as an act of redemption, and then a second chance at life is given to a reformed criminal.

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