Reviewing a film like ‘Galveston’ comes with its own challenge. It's easy to speak about a film you rather greatly like or dislike, but when it is uneven it can be difficult to pinpoint how it is just that. ‘Galveston’ marks an alternate shift to the evolving directorial career of Melanie Laurent (‘Inglorious Basterds’), and while showing glimpses of continued promise, it struggles often to find its feet. Despite compelling performances from its two central leads, the film takes a long time to understand what it wants to be and be more precise with its convictions, proving an often diffident experience, but one that sparkles with a thematic complexity that gets it over the line.
Adapted from the novel by ‘True Detective’ creator Nic Pizzolatto, the story centres on the heavy drinking criminal Roy (Ben Foster, ‘Hell or High Water’). He has just received a possibly terminal diagnosis and suspects that he is being double-crossed by his employers. Following a heist that confirmed his doubts, Roy discovers a prostitute named Rocky (Elle Fanning, ‘20th Century Women’), and the pair decided to escape together from the crime they are now caught up in. Roy identifies Galveston as their safe haven, and then the challenge lies in keeping a low profile away from trouble. But as the pair’s respective demons begin to take different forms, their attempts to outrun their problems proves easier said than done.
From the onset, ‘Galveston’ did not begin with great promise. Tonally, it was fairly uneven, offering uncompromising violence before transitioning into something much more poetically constructed. It is that unsureness in what the film should be that plagues it early on. The film offers a lot of variant themes, and that in part limits the vitality of the film’s storytelling. It is wearing a lot of different hats, and when it strays into its crime drama elements it is far from distinguishable.
However, it must be stated that this quandary does deliver some of the film’s finer elements as well. While the ambition of Laurent doesn’t come off completely, the film is taking some bold strokes and makes these characters more multi-faceted than they deserve to be. The film’s depiction of masculinity is often a very intriguing one, as is how our humanistic scope of desperation can take us to some very dark, and often violent, places. When the film strays from the criminal aspect of the story, it develops into more of a character study. Fixated between a man and a woman who are forcibly figuring out how they became the people they are, to two very different spectrums. ‘Galveston’ succeeds when it is more about these two characters, as their challenges provide the depth that makes them considerably more intriguing screen presences. So, despite it never entirely working, when it seizes some particular aspects that tend to fit with a much more apt tone, ‘Galveston’ works much better.
One thing that works unequivocally is the performances of both Ben Foster and Elle Fanning. While the film battles throughout with its thematic ambitions, the performances of the pair are always grounded in sincerity and a raw palpable emotion.
One thing that works unequivocally is the performances of both Ben Foster and Elle Fanning. While the film battles throughout with its thematic ambitions, the performances of the pair are always grounded in sincerity and a raw palpable emotion. Foster, who has crafted a niche playing reckless and damaged men, is quite remarkable in a performance that is well-suited to his natural abilities as an actor. Fanning, who is given some of the meatier proclamations and speeches, is at once beguiling, tragic and human. For all that the narrative does for this film to both its benefit and detriment, these performers are always able to convey compelling work. For characters that are written quite sparsely, Foster and Fanning make them flawed and faceted people we are following. And once the film realises that as a character piece it strives, they run away with it. It is simply stunning how well they contribute to the film’s overall quality.
As a whole, ‘Galveston’ is a bit of a mixed bag. There is certainly a great film there, and on more occasions than one we see glimpses of that film. Laurent tackles some very engaging ideals and they are only benefited by the bevy of great performers that she has in her arsenal. It is an interesting film that doesn’t entirely come together, and that is unfortunate given that we do tend to go back and forth between the compelling and the disengaging. But for what it’s worth, it is more engrossing than it isn’t, and often deserves to be.