If “Hell or High Water” is equivalent to Bell’s Two Hearted Ale then “The Quarry” (available on VOD as of Friday, Apr. 17) is more akin to Bud Light. Sure, one pair are both beers and the other pair are both noir-tinged movies set in West Texas chronicling crime, but each of the pairs consists of an option with a lot more personality, taste and craftsmanship than the other.
I was excited to watch “The Quarry” after seeing a trailer on Facebook not having heard of it before. It stars two of the best character actors working today in Shea Whigham and Michael Shannon. Whigham plays The Man, a drifter who’s dehydrated, malnourished and in extreme dire straits when he’s picked up off the side of the road by a travelling preacher named David Martín (Demián Bichir’s brother, Bruno). Martín is kind enough to give The Man a lift and take him to a nearby café for breakfast and copious amounts of water. Afterwards, Martín takes The Man to the titular quarry so he can indulge in his particular vice – vino. Intoxicated, Martín begins evangelizing to The Man. The Man doesn’t take kindly to this and bludgeons Martín with a wine bottle … killing him. The Man stashes Martín’s corpse, dons Martín’s clean clothes from his van, steals the van and assumes the position he was about to start at a small-town church under the name David Martin. He’s greeted by Celia (Catalina Sandino Moreno, a 2005 Best Actress nominee for “Maria Full of Grace”), who agreed to rent a room to Martín as she had to the revolving door of former ministers. Her cousins Valentin (Bobby Soto of “A Better Life”) and Poco (Alvaro Martinez) break into the van arousing the attention of Chief Moore (Shannon), whom Celia makes time with. The boys get more than they bargained for when the police look to finger them for Martín’s murder.
“The Quarry” was supposed to debut at South by Southwest before it was cancelled. It’s based off a 1995 novel by Damon Galgut, which was set in South Africa and dealt partially with racial tensions stemming from apartheid. This prejudice is extended to West Texas and dealt to Valentin and Poco by some overzealous officers. The theme is present but never extrapolated upon with enough depth to truly connect. Co-writer/director Scott Teems has a good reputation having written and directed the well-regarded 2009 Hal Holbrook film “That Evening Sun” and serving as a writer and producer on critically-acclaimed TV series such as “Rectify” and “Narcos: Mexico.” He does a lot right here and you can see he has the pieces to make something special … they just don’t fit together cohesively. I’m guessing something was lost in translation. And brother is this mother SLOOOOOW!!! There ain’t much to this tale and the filmmakers take the long way getting there. Everyplace online says this is 98 minutes. I could swear it said 108 minutes on my Xbox while playing and it felt like 128 minutes.
Whigham does a decent enough job exhibiting conflict and guilt. Moreno inexplicably wears a pink bathrobe through much of the picture. (I’m sure this was a character choice. I just didn’t get it. Possibly conveying depression?) Shannon is the standout acting-wise. He lends the picture some much needed levity and I got a kick out of watching him ride around on a motorcycle sporting goggles. On paper I would’ve pegged Whigham for Shannon’s role and vice versa. This is the fourth time the two have worked together – “Take Shelter” (which I’ve never seen despite hearing it’s good and having caught almost everything else Jeff Nichols has done), HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and Paramount Network’s “Waco” being the other three. “The Quarry” doesn’t hit the heights of their TV collaborations. In fact, I was kinda bummed I spent seven bucks renting it and my biggest takeaway was really digging Ryan Bingham’s song, “The Man,” which played over the closing credits.