Detour – Film Review (2017)
Adam reviews the new neo-noir Detour starring Tye Sheridan and Bel Powley.
Detour the newest film by Christopher Smith (Black Death) is a twisty neo-noir that blends equal parts Jim Thompson and early Christopher Nolan. Smith makes the most of his young cast and turns out a fun ride that’s not as fully dark as one would want but enough so to take things to interesting places.
The film begins simply with Harper (Tye Sheridan) in his law and ethics class listening intently to a lecture on the boundaries of crime and punishment. Before one has time to say Double Indemnity, Harper is embroiled in a plot to murder his duplicitous step-father (a great cameo by Stephen Moyer). Or is he? One of the fun aspects of the film is how Smith is able to play with expectations and our understanding of the noir genre. We have seen the dynamic of the brute force (Emory Cohen), the moll (Bel Powley) and the mark set in the vast expanse of the California desert. Jim Thompson mined this territory before, and Smith takes heavy influence from the author (specifically After Dark My Sweet). Smith never directly cribs, but rather allows Thompson’s love of “rug pulling” amid noir storytelling to take hold of his film.
Sheridan continues to show that he is just a few films removed from stardom. Harper is both the put-upon mark and the crafty operator, sometimes both at the same time. The character makes questionable choices, and Sheridan is able to bring you into his plight. Many of the films trickier story elements work because of the strength of Sheridan as a performer. Bel Powley is stranded for most of the film with not much to do. What would have been a great twist on the Femme Fatale role comes off flat. Powley tries to give gravitas to a role that’s written as a cliché but just isn’t able to push it beyond the “woman in a bad situation”.
Ultimately the film works because of Smith’s ability to twist the third act into an unconventional turn that many, even seasoned noir fans, won’t see coming. Rather than play the plot twists, Smith wisely plays the twists for the emotional turns and the enlightenment it brings to the audience. This isn’t a devastating gut punch, but it is a gut punch nonetheless.