Before I begin, let me set the scene for you. It's Thursday night at 9:45pm, the night after Coastlines opened at IFC Center. It's 9:40 and I've been waiting in line to get into the theater for the last 15 minutes. The theater finally empties out and people start to file in. A theater employee yells out that Russian Dolls will now be showing on screen three and everyone files out. I'm now completely alone. Crap, does everyone know something I don't know? Did my preview send shockwaves through the film community scaring people off? Either way, I got to take off my shoes, put my feet up and relax. As for the movie...
Unfortunately, I've never seen either Ulee's Gold or Ruby in Paradise, the first two films in Nunez's panhandle trilogy, so I lack a solid frame of reference. But if people say Coastlines paled in comparison, then I'm going to immediately add them to my Netflix queue.
Note: potential spoilers are in the paragraphs below
Coastlines begins with Sonny's (Timothy Olyphant) release from jail. He hooks up with his accepting but disappointed father before reconnecting with his old mob buddies to collect a $200,000 debt. Sonny only receives a fraction of what he's owed and vows to get the rest. Sensing Sonny won't go away, the crimnals try to off him, but end up killing his father in the process. What follows is Sonny's existential struggle and attempt to inflict payback on his agressors. Luckily he has some old friends (Dave and Ann Lockhart played by Josh Brolin and Sarah Wynter) to help him along the way.
This being an independent drama, Sonny inevitably bites the hands that feed him by sleeping with Ann and threatening the career and life of Dave. Despite everything going to crap, everyone (who isn't dead) forgives everyone in the end and it's one big happy lovefest, which is my main issue with the film.
Nunez definitely leaves hints that everything isn't hunkydory and life is more pain than happiness, but then the film closes with a big party for Sonny that's all smiling and hugging and carrying on. If you want to say that life is messy, then you can't end your film with a party. Period.
What some might consider a more egregious issue is the generally poor script. I was able to get into the characters because nearly everyone played theirs well, but I had trouble enjoying what came out of their mouths. I especially enjoyed William Forsythe's portrayal of Fred Vance, the dirty mobster. He put my mental image of a backwater, redneck mobster into action and I couldn't take my eyes off him when he spoke.
Despite my gripes, the film kept me entertained most of the way through. Nunez was able to make a relatively crappy script shine with a gritty view of life in the panhandle. In fact, my disdain for the sappy ending exists only because I was sucked deeply into this world. I could see why this movie sat on the shelf for four years, but I'm glad IFC decided to release it. The best endorsement I can give is that I sat through the entire movie at 9:45 even though the theater was empty. I couldn't say the same for hundreds of movies I've seen over the years.