Eric Larue (dir. Michael Shannon)
By: Adam Freed
Prior to composing Eric Larue, writer Brett Neveu knew he had a message to share with the world about the residual impact of gun violence in America. As a child, Neveu felt the crushing pain of a violent incident that touched his small Iowa town. Memories of that traumatic event in conjunction with an unfulfilling prior attempt at telling the story lead the writer to his eventual pairing with Academy Award nominated actor turned first time director Michael Shannon. Neveu and Shannon paint a vivid portrait of how long after the police line is removed and the crime scene is clean, the ripple effect of violence resonates in perpetuity.
The film craftily begins in the months after the horrific event has already become part of the small town’s history. In addition to three murdered teenage boys and a fourth left facing a lifetime of incarceration are the families of both the killer and victims, none of whom have relocated and still live in uncomfortable proximity to one another. Where the thought provoking premise is both heightened and hindered is in the films eerily light tone which weaves in and out of light hearted comedic moments, despite the dark undertones presented throughout. Making the most of this tonal vacillation is a noteworthy cast lead by Judy Greer (Ant Man, Jurassic Park) in the role of Janice, mother of the titular Eric. Greer presents admirably as an already broken woman, grasping desperately to the final thread of her waning religious devotion.
Janice is further burdened by her spouse Ron, likely within the grips of what mental health professionals would call sublimation, a defense mechanism of hyper focus in avoidance of trauma. Ron is brilliantly navigated by Alexander Skarsgard (The Northman, Big Little Lies) who has decided that his only path to atonement is a blind devotion to a more conservative religious environment. The tightrope that Skarsgard successfully traverses is playing the character as disconnected and humorous without losing the thread of the violent memory that haunts him. As he and Janice drift apart, it is clear that differentiated paths towards salvation are inevitable.
Eric Larue is a film of tremendous promise that approaches, but never quite grasps the payoff that audiences will feel that they deserve. For every deeply moving set piece there is another that doesn’t quite land. For every warmly timed humorous release, an opposite tepid groan. Michael Shannon adds to his immense list of talents the promising eye of a director and writer Brett Neveu crafts a timely and genuine script, that despite highlights, never reaches the sum of its parts. Eric Larue is a conundrum that is both enjoyable and emotional, humorous and heavy. A swirl of reactions that may mimic the desperate feelings of those left grieving tragedy in a small town.
Target Score: 6/10 - A film that explores small town America in the devastating wake of a gun violence incident. Despite winning performances from Alexander Skarsgard and Judy Greer, Michael Shannon’s directorial debut is memorable but shy of remarkable.
Eric Larue was reviewed as an official submission to the 59th Annual Chicago International Film Festival.