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Review: Slow building drama 'The Quarry' can't find grit

Courtesy of Lionsgate


Attempting to be 2020’s version of “Hell or High Water,” Scott Teems’ small-town drama “The Quarry” doesn’t build the kind of momentum David Mackenzie’s 2016 action flick did, nor does it give you any convictions to hold onto. Despite a fine cast led by Oscar heavyweights Shea Whigham and Micheal Shannon (who both share some ace two-hander scenes), this somber drama struggles to find the grit promised from the opening sequence. This could have easily been a tense cat-and-mouse nail biter, and instead gets bogged down by sluggish pacing and zero tension.

The film pits a West Texas police chief (Shannon) against a newly appointed preacher (Shea Whigham) who clearly isn’t from around these parts. The only thing missing from their first scene together is the obligatory rolling tumbleweed to signal we’ve been transported to a western. Whigham is an outlaw who isn’t who he claims to be - a drifter that’s literally blown into town and is on numerous most wanted lists. In the first scene, he catches a break when a preacher picks him up on the side of the road, but eventually he murders him in cold blood and decides to take over his identity.

Nobody really questions where “David” came from (as far as the townsfolk are concerned he’s their new preacher) and he begins services like normal. It’s a small and rural town that doesn’t have much going for it, and Shannon’s overly aggressive police chief doesn’t catch on that this man could be a criminal. But when David’s van is burglarized by local drug dealer Valentin (Bobby Soto) and his little brother (Alvaro Martinez) some unwanted attention comes his way. The police are happy to track down Valentin and when they stumbled upon the real David’s body, they’re happy to pin the murder on him too. Of course, we know who the real killer is, and it’s that spat of dramatic irony you’d think would propel the picture, except it stalls out of the gate.

Teems is wise to cast Shannon as the chief, a powerhouse performer well stacked to fire on all cylinders. He goes from soft-spoken to brooding intensity on a dime, so it makes his performance seem off-center compared to Whigham who just mopes around and reads sermons, giving Shannon hardly anything to chew on. There’s no tension or danger that David might become exposed, just a small and routine build-up that ends the film on a whimper.

In a different movie, perhaps the filmmakers take the time and flesh out David’s backstory, maybe show a side of Whigham’s talents this film neglects. What kind of fugitive is this character really? Is it someone walking a different path towards redemption? At one point a character says “Guilt is a heavy burden, most men can’t carry it alone.” Unfortunately, Shannon and Whigham can’t carry this film alone either.

Grade: C-

THE QUARRY will be released On-Demand starting Friday April 17th.

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