Generally speaking, film noir deals with themes like alienation, paranoia, and the waning influence of decency in an ever more vice-ridden world. And then sometimes film noir is just about a bunch of colorfully devious characters who keep stabbing each other in the back in all sorts of amusing/entertaining ways. That’s exactly what the nifty new neo-noir ensemble called The Frontier feels like: a few little morality lessons here and there, but mostly just a bunch of crooks, crimes, double-dealings, triple-crosses, and untimely demises.
Plot synopsis, short version: a desperate young woman is on the run from the law, so she takes a break from the desert roads at an isolated hotel to gather her thoughts — but it quickly becomes clear to Laine (Jocelin Donahue) that there are some seriously shady dealings afoot at The Frontier. She reluctantly accepts a job at the motel diner, and that’s when the troublemakers start to show up.
There’s the oddly welcoming hotel manager (Kelly Lynch) who is plainly living in the past; an obnoxiously “upper class” couple (Jamie Harris and Izabella Miko) who seem more than a little out of place in this flyspeck of a motel; a gruff and mean-spirited blowhard (Jim Beaver); a cop (AJ Bowen) best described as charmingly schizophrenic, and, of course, a few unexpected guests here and there. It doesn’t take long for Laine to realize that this collection of crooks is planning a “big heist” of some sort, so of course she starts hatching her own devious plans on how she can steal their score.
The fact that Laine may also be a criminal in her own right makes things a little more difficult for our crafty anti-heroine, and that’s sort of what makes The Frontier so much fun: we instantly want to pull for Laine, even though we’re not even sure if she’s a victim or a villain. It’s also worth noting that Ms. Donahue’s performance is simply excellent, and that her supporting cast is aces across the board, but the charm of the movies lies in its hard-boiled, tough-talking, and frequently tongue-in-cheek dialogue and its simple yet circuitous story.
Written by Webb Wilcoxen and first-time director Oren Shai, The Frontier offers a simple premise and an enjoyable collection of noir-style archetypal characters, yet the dialogue is frequently sharp and witty, and while the set-up is pretty basic, it doesn’t take long before the twists, turns, and unexpected betrayals start hitting the screen.
It’s also well-paced, nicely shot, and smart enough to give each member of the ensemble a few moments to shine. The Frontier is Ms. Donahue’s movie all the way, but between the supporting cast, the nastily amusing screenplay, and the endless double-crossings and back-stabbings, there are simply a lot of enjoyable facets to be found in this crafty little wise-assed neo-noir thriller.
4 out of 5 colorful yet untrustworthy burritos
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