Galveston review Ben Foster Elle FanningYear: 2018
Director(s): Melanie Laurent
Writer(s): Nic Pizzolatto
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: n/a
Color, 91 mins

Synopsis: After escaping a set up, a dying hitman returns to his hometown of Galveston where he plans his revenge. (Source)

Life just doesn’t look the same when we’re forced to confront an expiration date. Suddenly, we’re faced with the cold hard truths of who we are, what we’ve done and what we’re leaving behind. It’s in this space that Melanie Laurent’s devastating Galveston exists. Adapted from a novel by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, Laurent’s film is an existential study of two dead-end lives trapped within an unforgiving world. This is one bleak portrait, a hitman thriller that searches for humanity between the lines. With its loose structure and meditative pace, Laurent wrings heart-stopping performances from stars Ben Foster and Elle Fanning, culminating in an experience that captures the fleeting nature of life and the grace that finds away.

Ex-con Roy (Ben Foster) is at the end of his rope. He leads a meandering existence, having just been given a terminal diagnosis, and works as an enforcer for a ruthless loan shark. Roy’s lead a violent life, unafraid to take lives, and with his own on the line, could care less. During a botched set-up, Roy saves a teen prostitute named Raquel (Elle Fanning). Though he initially has no interest in her, he seems something in her, unable to shake a sense of solidarity. As the two run into hiding, Raquel urges Roy to take her baby sister in as well, and the three find themselves as an unsaid, strained family unit. With the clock ticking and the walls closing in, Roy and Raquel are forced to make decisions that will lead to irreversible outcomes.

Objectively, nothing in this film is anything we haven’t seen before. Still, Laurent’s evocative touch makes it an immersive, inescapable experience. Though the film is bookended by two sequences of grisly gunplay, the majority of it is a lyrical hang-out piece. In turn, the details of what got Roy and Raquel where they are are purposefully vague, leaving us to focus on the two wrestling with who they are, and who they want to be. As Roy and Raquel attempt to buy more time, Laurent amplifies beauty in the mundane, calling out the most basic aspects of life that we take for granted. In general, this is a very impressionistic film. It piles on evocative moments of kinship and empathy despite the way our characters instinctively run towards self-destruction. Laurent’s direction eventually makes its way to unexpected grace, building to a powerful conclusion that takes what we’ve just seen and challenges us to think bigger.

Galveston review Ben FosterAt the film’s core, this is an understated character piece, leading to two performances that rock us to the core. Kicking things off with Roy, Ben Foster embodies the film’s sense of hopelessness. Foster wears anger and frustration naturally, but also a pain that we can’t help but feel for. On the flip side, Elle Fanning is a powerhouse as Raquel. Fanning is the film’s heart, pragmatic but also a bit idealistic, and it’s through her that we really feel the film’s stakes. Where the story takes her is utterly unpredictable, and she is the film’s centerpiece.

Taking admittedly stock characters and a story that isn’t necessarily new, Laurent elevates Galveston, ending up with a powerful story about the horrors humans are capable of, but also the mysterious grace that nature sometimes hands to us. In the end, this is an unflinching film that doesn’t hold back on brutality, but also stops us in our tracks with moments of unexpected human kindness.