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Anjelica Huston shoots Bill Pullman with a rifle in Theresa Rebeck’s Trouble, but let’s not make too much of that. She was only trying to make a point. The story behind that point is a long time coming in this, the second film directed by the Pulitzer-nominated playwright (her Poor Behavior premiered over a year ago at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, and doesn’t seem to have screened since), and one wonders if a more seasoned filmmaker might have tightened it up a bit. But the cast goes a long way here, turning Trouble at times into the kind of small-town hangout film that will please fest auds.
Huston plays Maggie, a recent widow who lives peacefully on a big chunk of land in rural Vermont. Peacefully, that is, until long-absent brother Ben (Pullman) shows up one day on a backhoe, digging a foundation for a house he intends to build on land he claims was stolen from him.
The land wasn’t stolen, but we won’t get into that for a while. Huston starts her performance with the anger knob turned to 9 or so, railing at Ben and the local lawman (Brian d’Arcy James) she insists should stop this outrage. (He doesn’t do much, hence that upcoming confrontation with the rifle.) It soon dawns on the fellas helping Ben — including Gerry (David Morse), a childhood friend of both siblings — that he doesn’t have all his ducks in a row, and that construction should wait until he can demonstrate a legal right to build here.
Here we enter a midsection concerned with logging rights, back taxes and paperwork that, though crucial to the argument at hand, bogs the picture down a bit. On the bright side, it allows Rebeck to introduce Rachel, a records clerk played by Julia Stiles, whose spacey evasiveness about documents relating to the dispute enlivens a scene or two. Turns out she’s a slave to the Neanderthal charms of Curt (Jim Parrack), a sweaty gum-smacker who, along with Victor Williams’ Ray, wants to help Ben get this mess resolved without bloodshed.
Though the script goes easy on illustrations of Ben’s character flaws — living in a dilapidated trailer in the woods stands in for a lot here — Pullman fills in the gaps, displaying a restlessness and insistence on his own dubious logic that make it easier to understand why Maggie thinks brandishing lethal force is her only option.
Where the siblings occupy high-energy positions on opposing sides, Morse brings a more thoughtful energy to the film. We learn at the start that Gerry has a lifelong crush on Maggie, but he takes his sweet time letting it affect how he handles this crisis, which has one friend close to death and another in danger of prison. Gerry’s the decent man on the sidelines, the kind of character a scenario with a name like Trouble just can’t afford to be without.
Production company: Great Point Media
Cast: Anjelica Huston, Bill Pullman, David Morse, Julia Stiles, Brian d’Arcy James, Jim Parrack, Victor Williams
Director-screenwriter: Theresa Rebeck
Producers: Jaclyn Bashoff, Julie Buck, Rachel Dengiz, Theresa Rebeck
Executive producers: Joshua Blum, Ted Blumberg, Robert Halmi Jr., Anjelica Huston, Jim Reeve
Director of photography: Christina Voros
Production designer: Sara K. White
Costume designer: Meghan Kasperlik
Editor: Sara Shaw
Composer: Robert Burger
Venue: Seattle International Film Festival
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