A LITTLE TRIP TO HEAVEN
Director/Screenwriter: Baltasar Kormakur
Executive Producers: Lilja Palmadottir, Jon Asgeir Johannesson
Producers: Baltasar Kormakur, Joni Sighvatsson
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Julia Stiles, Jeremy Renner, Peter Coyote
Iceland, 2005, 97 min.
*When a million-dollar life insurance policy comes up for collection, the company always opens a case. When a million-dollar life insurance policy held by notorious con artist Kelvin Anderson comes up for collection, the company sends the best to investigate. . .as so they dispatch Holt, a wool-capped and beige-mannered claims investigator played with an Irish brogue by acclaimed actor Forest Whitaker. When Holt's current assignment takes him to the snowy small town of Hastings, Minnesota, to confirm Kelvin's death, he senses deception from the start. So begins a dramatic emotional tangle with the policy's single beneficiary, Kelvin's sister, Isold (played hauntingly by Julia Stiles), and her volatile husband, Fred (Jeremy Renner, rounding out the trifecta of nuanced performances).
What great crime noir must do is keep you guessing, but what Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur has delivered is a film that does much more. Returning the genre to a place of both credibility and true danger, Kormakur finds as much interest in the ambivalent moral winds of the story as the mysterious events generating them. In this richly photographed landscape of frigid loneliness and desperation, the light and shadows of right and wrong change as often as the seasons: familiar territory for the acclaimed director of The Sea.
*Summary by Joseph Beyer, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
On the surface, this looks like an easy 5 Groar movie for me: A Fargo-esque noir with two fantastic actors set in desolate and rich locations. Unfortunately, the tale is too muddled and twisty for its own good. I understand that is a requirement for this type of story, but I feel that there is too much of a deal made of the shifting identity of the Jeremy Renner character, and just how aware of his various identities the Julia Stiles character is. I also feel that many of the transitions were confusing and the character motivations felt forced. 'Isolde', the character portrayed by Julia Stiles is a confusing mix of defiance and subservience. She also has a moment with the Forest Whitaker character that seems to be leading to either a romantic interest or a common ground between the characters. However, this scene is never developed, as if there were further scenes between the two that are cut from the final film. Forest Whitaker takes the acting honors for this film, creating a humble and efficient character with a very credible Minnesota accent. I feel that his character is betrayed by the finale of the film when he makes a decision that seems to be based on a close relationship with Isolde that has just not been established in the rest of the film. He also has some well-done humorous moments, especially with Peter Coyote, his co-worker.
The setting of this dark tale is supposed to take place in North Hastings, Minnesota. The vista is all rotting farmhouses, desolate county roads, and snow-flurried prairie-land. However, it pulls me out of the tale a bit since I have been to Hastings and the strip mall and rental agencies of that area don't match the terrain shown in this film. Plus, despite what viewers might think, there are NO mountain ranges or sand dunes in Minnesota! So, I loved the locations in the film, but they were clearly landscapes from the director's homeland of Iceland and not the American Heartland.
Even though I can't recommend the logic or the sense of this film's plot, I love a film that draws me in with its otherworldly locations (no matter how unrealistic they are) and spot-on acting jobs.