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There is only one real reason to watch Mercury Plains, and that's to get a sense of whether Scott Eastwood has the gravitas or screen presence to follow in the footsteps of his father, Clint. Although the movie is far from conclusive, the outlook is potentially positive, with this low-fi modern western providing a nice range of opportunities for Eastwood to both try on his father's trademark tics, and also to take his own path. Without Eastwood, the movie would probably be a bit of a snore, but he elevates it to a mildly engaging experience.
Clint Eastwood, of course, made a name for himself as the strong silent type, a man who studied the lay of the land for a long time before making a move. At times, there is the sense that director Charles Burmeister or Scott himself are too inclined toward trying to fit Scott into the same mold. He spends a great deal of Mercury Plains watching and thinking, with that little line of concern between his eyebrows. There are times when this approach feels authentic to the character, who naturally suspects that $5000 a week to take down bad guys with no authoritative oversight other than that of The Captain sounds like a deal too good to be true, and becomes further suspicious when the rest of the troops are a ragtag bunch of angry young men that seem like "the best we could do" more than "the best of the best." At other times, however, it feels inauthentic, like a blank canvas on which the audience is meant to project meaning rather than the filmmaker or the actor expressing anything.
However, when he does speak, and he does speak plenty of the time, Scott Eastwood reveals himself to be much different than his father, more soft-spoken, and with an articulate nature that actually backs up the idea that he's been thinking all those times he's been sternly staring. This is not to say that Mercury Plains is a particularly heady or complex movie (although the long-winded speeches Chinlund has to deliver certainly suggests Burmeister thinks it is), but the film successfully defines Mitch as a thinker among followers, someone who is interested in digging deeper into The Captain's motives than the other, younger members of his group who view their having nothing left to lose as a fate rather than a potentially changeable situation.
Burmeister is a decent visual stylist, giving the movie a professional sheen despite an obviously low budget. Although he ponders the "mercury plains" of the title a little indulgently, he effectively transforms dirt fields filled with scrub brush that could probably be found in any New Mexico back yard into an expansive, cinematic landscape on which he can set shootouts and foot chases. He has a strong sense of visual geography, providing strong clarity during the movie's few action sequences, and he is sure to shoot Eastwood in profile as often as possible, the angle from which he looks most like his father (when seen straight on, a bit of Christian Bale creeps in instead). On many of these direct-to-video or low-budget thrillers, there's the sense that everyone was slumming it, all believing that someone else would pick up the slack for their half-assed effort. Mercury Plains isn't a great or particularly memorable movie, but it feels more like the opposite, one in which everyone gave a little bit extra effort, lifting an average movie up a few notches. Whether or not it will also be mentioned as one of the early efforts of a future star is yet to be seen.
Mercury Plains gets artwork that sort of works and sort of doesn't, one which heavily implies, despite its tagline, that Eastwood plays an actual FBI agent, possibly one who works at the border. It's also interesting that Eastwood's name is far larger than the title itself. The back cover, on the other hand, feels oddly lazy. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Amaray case (with holes in it), and there is a leaflet offering a UltraViolet digital copy (in standard definition).
The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen and with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, Mercury Plains looks and sounds pretty decent. The film has a modern cinematography style that tends toward orange-ish skintones and teal skies, but within that palette the disc offers decent detail and a reasonable amount of depth. Black levels are strong with no obvious artifacting or banding. Sound-wise, the movie is fairly subdued, with the open expanse of Mexico providing an ambient open-air feel, and minimal gunfighting and action coming off intentionally sparse and low-fi. Most of the sound is dedicated to quiet conversations. English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Two extras are included. First up is an audio commentary by writer/director Charles Burmeister. He speaks a little about his trepidation about casting the younger Eastwood in his movie, but mostly focuses on the themes of the story, especially in relation to masculinity and fatherhood, as well as the choices he made as director in terms of how scenes are shot and edited. Burmeister is pleasant, although there are some significant gaps of dead air, and he occasionally falls into the trap of describing what's on screen. The disc wraps up with a collection of five deleted scenes (1:24, 1:56, 2:25, 0:45, and 1:02), which are not of much consequence.
Trailers for Heist, Cymbeline, Absolution, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu, and are accessible under the Special Features menu as "Also from Lionsgate." An original trailer for Mercury Plains is also included.
Mercury Plains is probably not a film that people will revisit, or one that will endure in the memories of those who see it, but it is generally well-made, and it features an intriguing performance by Scott Eastwood that shows promise with regard to him becoming a movie star himself. A solid rental.
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