Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bucksville (2011)

Director: Chel White                                         Writers: Laura McGie & Chel White
Film Score: Tom Brosseau                               Cinematography: Marc Greenfield
Starring: Thomas Stroppel, Ted Rooney, Katy Beckemeyer and Tom Berenger

Bucksville is a fascinating film. I came to it through its star, Thomas Stroppel, and his incredible performance in The Falls: Testament of Love by Northwest director Jon Garcia. He is a compelling actor and it’s terrific to see him in a starring role. Chel White is another Northwest director who wrote the film along with his girlfriend, Laura McGie. Like Garcia, White is also a musician and wrote some of the music for the film with guitarist Tom Brosseau, who is also an actor. The big name in the picture is Tom Berenger who was one of the producers on the film. The tag line pulled from the Ashland Film Festival promotional material states that it “ponders the fine line between good and evil,” but the film itself really takes a stand that is quite unambiguous. It was entered in a number of regional film festivals and did quite well, earning a first prize in Kansas City and a couple of second place finishes in Europe. It’s a small, independent film that was certainly able to gain a lot of recognition through its association with Berenger, but ultimately it stands on its own as an interesting, if flawed, character study.

The film begins in the cabin of a white supremacist group in the Pacific Northwest run by David Bodin, the town barber, and his brother, Ted Rooney. After reciting an oath, they all put on hoods and leave the cabin. The next morning Thomas Stroppel tells his father, Bodin, that he wants to join the military and go to Germany, but he is prevented from even thinking about it. His mother has left them and taken his sister, who calls to talk to him, but there’s nothing he can do. At the next meeting of the brotherhood, they decide to kill a sex trafficker who has avoided jail time. They capture him and spin a wheel to see who will kill him. Stroppel is picked and gives him the lethal injection in the woods, and the body is buried. When the easygoing Bodin dies, however, and the hard core Rooney takes over, Stoppel wants out even more but leaving the brotherhood won’t be easy. At the same time Rooney has pledged his group to become part of a larger organization run by Tom Berenger, where they will be paid more for higher profile victims. Stroppel’s old girlfriend, Katy Beckemeyer, reveals in a brief reunion that the two of them were supposed to run off together. She did, but Stroppel stayed, but now that she’s back he wants to leave with her for good, and that will take some doing.

For a vigilante film, the plot is pretty tame, but that seems to be the point. These are small town folk who have been seduced into the right-wing idea that their guns and their religion entitle them to extra-legal authority to do as they wish to punish criminals who have been “under-punished” by the judicial system. In many ways they are naïve about their ability to sustain such an organization, and inevitably they fall into the quandary of any such fanatical group, that the younger generation doesn’t share their vision and eventually want to go their own way. In the context of the film, Thomas Stroppel is definitely a prisoner of a cult. And as good as their vigilante intentions are, their actions are not so clear cut. When Berenger gets involved the morality becomes even muddier. There’s a lot that could have been done with the script that was missed, and that’s unfortunate. The intent is to present a character study of Stroppel’s escape, but the attempt at realism here sort of works against the piece in that his own naiveté causes him to make some incomprehensible choices. The opportunity for far more introspection and explanation were there but weren’t taken. It’s not a huge flaw, but it could disappoint a lot of viewers. Bucksville is not a great film, but it is worth seeing, if only for the quality work of the cast and the director doing their best with a script that doesn’t quite measure up.

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