Blow the Man Down (Streaming on Amazon Prime)
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Stars: Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor, June Squibb, Will Brittain, Margo Martindale
Writer/Directors: Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
Maybe it’s a dark comedy, or maybe it’s an off-kilter thriller. Either way, Blow the Man Down defies pigeonholing as it unspools the twisted tale of two sisters whose life in a sleepy Maine fishing village is upended by grisly death, murder, blackmail, suspicion, and for good measure, the sins of the flesh.
Twenty-something Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and her slightly younger sis Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) have just lost their mother to a long illness. Priscilla still runs Mom’s struggling business, but it appears the family home will need to be sold. Drinking her sorrows away at the local bar, Mary Beth embarks on a flirtation with a clearly sleazy and suddenly violent boatman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) — an interlude that ends up badly as Mary Beth hurls a harpoon through his neck.
The sisters clumsily cover up the fatality, which leads to a missing knife, which leads to the discovery of a lot of money, which leads to the fury of a local madam (Margo Martindale), which leads to…well, you get the idea. The twists keep tightening, putting the squeeze on the increasingly imperiled sisters.
As the plot thickens, so does the list of supporting characters. Among others, there’s a trio of local biddies (led by June Squibb) that tut-tuts about the House of Ill-Repute, a tragic young woman who’s caught in the grip of prostitution (Gayle Rankin), and a sweet cop who’s got a thing for one of the sisters (Will Brittain).
You can’t help but wish first-time screenwriter-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy had handed the project over to someone like the Coen Brothers, who could have helped them streamline the convoluted plot (for starters, beef up the young cop’s infatuation with the sister and ditch the distracting backstories). The direction could also have benefitted from a Coen touch: While the script has plenty of nifty twists and macabre turns, plus a supremely satisfying wrap-up, the film’s visual language is distressingly mundane, and the editing makes some of the otherwise fine performances seem a bit flabby.
Still, you can’t utterly dismiss a film with the great Martindale and Squibb on board. The two have a way of bringing depth to the most cursory of characters. As the sisters, Sophie Lowe draws us in with her perpetually sad eyes and Morgan Saylor brings the tough vulnerability that made her a standout on TV’s Homeland. As the local cop who suspects the sisters even though he’s a bit smitten with one of them, Will Brittain (Everybody Wants Some!!) conjures up images of a young Sam Rockwell.
If there’s a stroke of genius in Blow the Man Down, it’s the writers’ decision to employ a Greek chorus of lobster fishermen to comment on the action with sea shanties — sometimes rousing, often mournful. You’d be forgiven if you assumed the lead singer, David Coffin, was a crusty old sea salt discovered on the dock at Winter Harbor.
In reality, his father was pastor at New York’s Riverside Church and his grandfather was pianist Arthur Rubenstein. And that’s perhaps the film’s best twist of all.
Featured image: Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor in Blow the Man Down (Photo: Jeong Park, courtesy of Amazon Studios)
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