live_cargo_1Year: 2016
Director(s): Logan Sandler
Writer(s): Thymaya Payne, Logan Sandler
Region of Origin: US, Bahamas

Rating: Unrated
Black and white, 88 mins

Synopsis: A grieving couple retreats to a remote Bahamian island where they become entangled in a dangerous turf war between the island’s mayor and a greedy human trafficker. (Source)

Logan Sandler’s Live Cargo is a journey straight into the heart of darkness. It takes a long, grim path to where its going, but there’s a method here worth appreciating, even if it could’ve pushed a bit further. Straying from convention at almost every turn, Sandler explores the link between life and death, drawing atmosphere around broken people in imperfect situations. Above all, this is an experience that speaks through emotion and tone, rather than spelling everything out the way we’re used to. Despite its darkness, Sandler’s film is ultimately about hope, using gritty realism to find compassion amidst the unthinkable. Dree Hemingway, Keith Stanfield and Sam Dillon also headline a stellar ensemble, complimenting the film’s surreal, black-and-white photography and haunting ideas.

The story begins with a terrible tragedy – Nadine (Dree Hemingway) and Lewis (Keith Stanfield) have lost their child due to complications at birth. Months later, they’re fractured, but doing their best to move forward. The couple travel to an island in the Bahamas, where Nadine reconnects with an old family friend, Roy (Robert Wisdom), who also acts as the mayor of a small town. As they attempt to find peace amidst their beautiful surroundings, they stumble upon a human trafficking plot which is silently tearing the town from apart. Their story also intersects with that of a poor, local immigrant named Myron (Sam Dillon), who is trapped in a deadly turf war between the natives.

To be fair, the film’s story is a bit thin, but Sandler’s lyrical approach is immersive enough to keep us invested. Refreshingly, the film is more about nuance and texture, allowing the characters and plot to unfold without sensationalism, but with introspective poise and an inescapable portrait of grief. Gliding by with dreamlike aplomb, Sandler dissects a would-be paradise to unearth how beauty and grace are never too far away, if we only know where to look. The measured approach is one that takes its time, keeping distance, contrasting with the intimacy of moment-to-moment encounters as each character struggles with themselves, each other, and ultimately the bigger picture. The final result is a film that is in tune with hardship and struggle, but also unexpected human connection. Rather than follow a simple, a-b plot, Sandler is right to create a tone poem that is keen to the humanity that hangs in the balance.

live_cargo_3The performances are strong throughout, with each character adding depth to the film’s impressionistic ideas. As the tortured couple at the fore, Dree Hemingway and Keith Stanfield work well in contrast to one another, as Nadine and Lewis, respectively. Hemingway’s Nadine acts as the story’s impulsive, unpredictable element, while Lewis is more cautious and reserved. In many ways, their performances stand on each own, but come alive by creating a cohesive, shifting whole. As Myron, a local struggling to maintain his integrity while barely scraping by, Sam Dillon is a standout. In truth, his character cuts through the most, and he has the strongest arc in the entire film. As the jovial Roy, Robert Wisdom brings a layered role to life, bearing unsaid burdens while keeping things together to act as a pillar of strength in front of those he loves. As Doughboy, Leonard Earl Howze is the film’s most direct antagonist. Still, he plays the part with charm and charisma – he’s shady, but with a conviction that is palpable, and dangerous to ignore.

The real star of Live Cargo is Sandler’s sense of poetry through setting. With minimal dialogue and not a lot of exposition, the entire thing almost works as a silent film, one where its alluring environments are rendered in shades of grey and deep blacks. Ultimately, Sandler finds a sense of community and consequence throughout, showing how each action we make can affect those we don’t know for better or worse. The film definitely could’ve benefitted from going deeper into its complexities, especially due to the atrocities at its center, but as is, it’s strong effort that provokes and moves on its own terms.