'Bomb City': Film Review

A sympathetic look at outsiders living in conformist West Texas.
2/9/2018

Jameson Brooks' debut drama looks at a true crime that divided his hometown of Amarillo, Texas.

In 1997, long-simmering tensions between jocks and punks in Amarillo, Texas, exploded in a violent parking-lot brawl. Some participants carried baseball bats, some twirled heavy steel chains. But one football player had a Cadillac as a weapon, and used it to kill Brian Deneke, a 19-year-old beloved on the punk scene. Two decades later, Amarillo native Jameson Brooks looks at the build-up to and shameful aftermath of this crime in Bomb City, an empathetic drama ready to put straight-laced audiences in the shoes of a maligned subculture. Assured and effective, it deserves a wider release than it is getting from indie distributor Gravitas Ventures.

Dave Davis plays Brian, a gregarious, green-mohawked kid just coming home from a long road trip to New York City. As he greets old friends at the warehouse that serves as both punk flophouse and music venue, the movie wastes no time in demystifying their scene: It cuts between their happy mosh pit and the brutality happening across town on the football field, seeing little difference between the two violent rituals. But in hyperconservative Amarillo, one is revered and the other viewed with uncomprehending disgust.

Later that night, a few of Brian's friends stop for coffee at Mr. Frosty, a snack hut where some jocks are lamenting the end of a terrible season. Cody Cates (Luke Shelton), a junior-varsity player determined to fit in among his bigger bros, greets one of the punks with a "whatsup, faggot?" — nothing out of line with the way the town's frattish elites routinely demean misfits who, at least in Bomb City's eyes, ask only to be left alone. A minor ruckus ensues, foreshadowing the battle to come.

As Brooks and co-screenwriter Sheldon R. Chick flesh out the punks' scene, they occasionally jump far forward to the courtroom where Cody is being tried for Brian's murder. (In this retelling, where true events have been tweaked to meet a feature's structural needs, Cody Cates is a stand-in for Dustin Camp, the actual 17-year-old who ran Deneke down.) Here, Cody is represented by a defense attorney (Glenn Morshower, formerly a West Texas lawman on Friday Night Lights) who shamelessly plays to the jury's prejudices, painting the punks as violent criminals and their opponents as God-fearing, clean-cut pillars of the community. While the film may lean slightly too hard on this fear-mongering (or maybe not, given how the trial ends), it again easily shows truths the defense ignores — cutting from court to scenes of the football team's violent revelry. When local cops are called on the team's drunken bonfire, they break up the party gently; when they catch two punks tagging a building, they respond with a nearly SWAT-like show of force.

Without painting the punks as misunderstood angels, Brooks does everything he can to humanize Brian. We see a cheerful visit with his parents, squares who tease him about his hair and fret about the name of his band; we watch Brian and his girlfriend (Maemae Renfrow) select a puppy from the pound, then frolic as the sun sets behind Amarillo's famed Cadillac Ranch. But Davis' performance, warm and energetic, makes much of this unnecessary. By the time we get to that parking lot, where Brian is confronting jocks who've beaten the hell out of his friend (Henry Knotts), we ache in anticipation of the young man's death.

Putting the camera in Cody's car, Brooks doesn't make the killer a one-dimensional villain. He shows his bravado and his passengers' shock as the Cadillac drives directly toward the brawl; as they speed away from the scene once Brian is dying, Shelton allows some confused self-awareness and panic to taint Cody's adrenaline rush. Bomb City's account of this night's tragedy plays favorites, just as the defense attorney's does. But unlike that attorney, it doesn't have to pretend its villains are inhuman monsters in order to make its case.

Production company: 3rd Identity
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Dave Davis, Luke Shelton, Glenn Morshower, Logan Huffman, Lorelei Linklater, Eddie Hassell, Henry Knotts, Maemae Renfrow, Dominic Ryan Gabriel, Marilyn Manson
Director-editor: Jameson Brooks
Screenwriters: Sheldon R. Chick, Jameson Brooks
Producers: Sheldon R. Chick, Major Dodge
Executive producers: Steve Silver, Chad Cunningham, Libby Hunt, Norman Preskitt
Director of photography: Jake Wilganowski
Production designer: Adam Dietrich
Costume designer: Terri Prescott
Composers: Cody Chick, Sheldon R. Chick
Casting director: Major Dodge

98 minutes

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