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Filmed in the California desert on Super 16mm, THE FRONTIER weaves elements of classic noir, American western, and the hard-boiled paperbacks of the 50s to create a timeless world within which the film's colorful characters roam. Shadowy, textured, and wonderfully lush, THE FRONTIER looks like it popped out of the front cover of a gritty paperback novel. A female drifter (Jocelin Donahue, The House of the Devil) discovers a violent gang of thieves at a desert motel run by a mysterious woman (Kelly Lynch, Drugstore Cowboy) and hatches a plan to escape with their stolen cash. An official selection of SXSW 2015, this riveting neo-noir keeps viewers guessing to the last exhilarating shot.
Special Features: Audio Commentary by director/co-writer Oren Shai and co-writer Webb Wilcoxen, moderated by Shock Waves podcast's Elric Kane / "The Stranger", an interview with Jocelin Donahue / "The Law", an interview with AJ Bowen / "The Heavy", an interview with Jim Beaver / "8mm: Behind the Scenes of The Frontier" / Theatrical trailer
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This stylish film contains most elements of film noir — a dingy setting, a host of seedy and/or mysterious characters, a woman unafraid to go after what she wants, and a cop whose motives are cloudy. The rough talking dialogue and excellent photography give the picture a kind of retro feel that never seems contrived.
Director Oren Shai establishes the characters mostly through their appearance and some hard-boiled dialogue and wisely allows each member of the cast a few moments to shine. The story is simple. There are a few surprise revelations down the road, but what’s lacking is palpable suspense. Too often, the viewer knows exactly what’s going to happen.
Ms. Donahue is terrific and channels those B-picture actresses cast as leads in noir films of the 40s. Her Laine is attractive, smart, resourceful, and cagey. When she sees an opportunity, she also considers its ramifications before setting her plan in motion.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary by director/co-writer Oren Shai and co-writer Webb Wilcoxen; interviews with actors Jocelyn Donahue, AJ Bowen, and Jim Beaver; theatrical trailer; and the featurette “8 mm: Behind the Scenes of The Frontier.”
Laine is down on her luck, fleeing an abusive boyfriend, when she is helped by the kindly owner of a desert coffee shop. There is quite a collection of nice but slightly off characters hanging around this motel/coffee shop in the middle of nowhere.
But as the friendly Sheriff says "everyone has secrets."
This is a wonderful revival of film noir. The acting was occasionally wooden from some of the supporting cast, and the writing occasionally had a line of dialogue that just clunked, but the plotting was terrific and the movie hummed from start to finish. The acting of the lead actress, Jocelin Donahue, was absolutely first rate.
If made in the 90's, like the aforementioned pictures, I think this would be enjoying a wide-release right now. It clearly has the skill behind it. Shai is a beautiful stylist, creating the timeless palate of a decade never mentioned, but most likely the 70's, given the cars and wardrobe. However, the actors put their spin on movie stars of decades previous. There's Kelly Lynch doing her version of Gloria Swanson, Richard Harris channeling Errol Flynn, and Jim Beaver as a tough-guy Lee Marvin. Beaver stands out as the strongest of the bunch.
As much as the film portrays a slice of Americana Pulp, there's something almost European about the execution. It bypasses the luridness of the genre, offering small smatterings of violence and even less sex. Instead, it is focused on the lead, Donahue;
photographing her lovingly, hypnotically, like a muse with long contemplative zooms, making it a very voyeuristic movie. For almost the entire picture, we watch her as she watches them, and although we never fully learn about her character, she brings her inherent likability to it.
Although it starts rather straight-faced, there is a streak of black humor laced throughout that begins to escalate, climaxing with a delirious shift by Kelly Lynch. I suggest watching with an audience to bring out the potential camp.
The Blu Ray, by Kino, doesn't skimp on the special features. There's a Q and A, and commentary with Shai and the cast who all come off as very sincere and articulate. Both posters (the cover is reversible) are some of the best I've seen in recent memory. This one looks good on the shelf.