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Into the woods – ‘Blood and Money’

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Maine-made movies are a relative rarity.

It’s surprising, really – in a state with an abundant variety of natural beauty ranging from coastlines to mountains to forests, you’d think more filmmakers would take advantage. Of course, there are a number of reasons we don’t see movies made here – some economic, some logistical – but even so, you’d expect a little more frequency, though the truth is that many people may simply not understand the true breadth of opportunity here.

John Barr understands.

The Maine native and film industry veteran has made his directorial debut with “Blood and Money,” set and filmed in Maine and available on VOD on May 15. The thriller – also written by Barr – takes advantage of the verdant and untamed forests found in the norther parts of the state, constructing a tale of taut tension about a lone man battling his demons and fighting for his life.

Tom Berenger stars, bringing his well-earned gravitas to almost every single frame of the film. His stoic quietude matches the looming intensity of the winter forest through which he makes his way; it’s a good match, one that is served well by the gentle pacing of the narrative and the sere serenity of the setting.

Berenger is Jim Reed, a retired veteran who has been making regular hunting treks into the northern Maine woods for years. He’s a man haunted by his past, tortured by memories of tragedies that befell his family. Bitten hard by the bottle, he’s clean and sober, though it isn’t easy – especially since he’s also dealing with some significant health issues.

Reed basically lives in his camper and spends most of his days in the wood, hoping to land a buck. His social interactions are limited; the closest he comes to what you might call friends are Bill (Paul Ben-Victor, “The Banker”), an attendant at one of the woods entry gates, and Debbie (Kristen Hager, “The Turkey Bowl”), a waitress at Jim’s preferred diner in town.

Alas, the quiet of Reed’s world is about to be upended. While out hunting, he winds up stumbling into the middle of something incredibly dangerous. It seems that a group of murderous thieves – casino robbers – have also made their way into these woods, ostensibly in an effort to escape capture. Unfortunately for them, however, the spoils of their heist – a duffel bag packed with cash – winds up in Jim’s hands … and they are not interested in negotiating.

What follows is a brutal game of cat-and-mouse through the snow-covered woods. Reed, outnumbered and outgunned, must battle his way through his physical and emotional pain if he’s going to have any chance of survival.

Now, there are quite a few Maine-set movies out there, but again, it’s rare for them to actually be shot here. “Blood and Money” takes full advantage of being here – the woods are practically a character in their own right, defining the movie as everything else falls into place around the trees. The almost oppressive quiet of the snow-covered forest is a PERFECT setting for this kind of thriller, and Barr takes full advantage. He wields wide shots with aplomb, using the scale to dwarf the tiny human beings that trudge through the nigh-infinite acreage. Watching these individual figures struggling through the ungroomed trails, trying to fight each other while also fighting their surroundings – it all just works. There’s no substitute for the northern Maine woods in winter. If that’s what your story demands, then you have to get the real thing.

Too often, Maine-set cinematic stories trend toward the generic or the stereotypical. Barr avoids that trap in “Blood and Money.” He captures the staid affability of Mainers without confronting us with corny, inaccurate accents. Instead, he gives us a straightforward thriller, driven by character and circumstance. Don’t mistake the film’s relative simplicity for a lack of sophistication, though.

That said, there are some flaws here. There are some stretches that feel padded, as if there wasn’t quite enough narrative for a full-length feature. The leisurely pacing can feel a little too slow, occasionally letting the tension deflate a bit. And there are a couple of plot details that might have you raising an eyebrow.

Still, many of those flaws are compensated for by the presence of Berenger. He’s precisely the sort of pro that a movie like this needs to be successful, able to convey a troubled world-weariness with little more than a sigh or a grunt or a muttered curse word. There’s a grizzled gravity to his performance, a sense of a poorly-healed long-ago brokenness that permeates his every word and deed. The work of the rest of the ensemble is solid – Hager is very good, while Mark Sivertsen gives good villain as one of the casino robbery crew – but there’s no denying that this is very much the Tom Berenger show.

“Blood and Money” is a tense trip through the Maine woods, a tale of a hunter becoming the hunted – and how he fights back. It’s also a story of what it means to be lonely and how meaningful even the smallest connections can be. Kudos to John Barr for utilizing the resources of his native state so thoroughly in the execution of what is clearly a passion project; it wears its Maine-ness with pride. The film isn’t perfect, but it is certainly worth checking out.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 11 May 2020 15:15

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