'Go With Me': Venice Review

Go With Me Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival
Better go in the opposite direction. 

Swedish director Daniel Alfredson's latest stars his 'Kidnapping Mr. Heineken' lead, Anthony Hopkins, alongside Julia Stiles, Hal Holbrook and Ray Liotta.

A harassed single woman in rural Washington turns to a crusty old logger and his stuttering, much younger sidekick for help in Go With Me, from Swedish director Daniel Alfredson (Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, The Girl Who Played with Fire).

Based on the eponymous novel by Caste Freeman Jr., this middling bigscreen adaptation stars Anthony Hopkins, who’s also listed as one of the producers, as the cunning curmudgeon, Julia Stiles as the haggard-looking damsel in distress and VikingsAlexander Ludwig as the brawny young man who can always be trusted to punch someone whenever the plot runs out of ideas. Also featuring Ray Liotta and Hal Holbrook, this is the kind of project that makes one wonder what such a big-name cast saw in such run-of-the-mill material. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival as an out-of-competition title but won’t make the trek to Toronto, despite being shot in British Columbia and featuring a supporting cast of Canadian actors.

Lillian (Stiles) has recently left Seattle and returned to backwater Washington (changed from Vermont in the novel), where she’s renovating her childhood home after the death of her mother. At her waitressing job, she’s given a big tip and is subsequently harassed by ex-cop-turned-crime kingpin, Blackway (Liotta), who then starts to follow her around and finally turns up on her doorstep one night and kills her cute cat. For no immediately apparent reason, the screenplay, by producers Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs (the latter also directed this year’s Magic Mike XXL), suggests all this in a piecemeal fashion, with flashbacks inserted here and there.

When asking the gloomy town sheriff (Dale Wilson) for help, he tells her that “that’s not the way things work around here,” and points Lillian in the direction of the old saw mill, where elderly geezer Whizzer (Holbrook) might be able to get some guy named Scotty (Aaron Pearl) to help. Scotty turns out to be but one of the film’s unexplained dead ends, though Lillian does run into Lester (Hopkins) there, who says he’ll help her find Blackway. The old man asks Nate (Ludwig), a handsome but stuttering worker at the mill for whom he’s been a kind of godfather, to come along as well.   

The trio’s only mission is to find Blackway and then do, well, something so he’ll stop pestering Lillian. Why Blackway, who seems to be running a crime empire, wants to harass her specifically is anyone's guess and why Lester has decided to help is never quite clear, either. There are some hints it might have to do with the suicide of Lester's daughter, which might have made him sensible to the plight of young women, as one of the characters suggests, and there’s also a sudden flashback to Lester being hectored by Blackway, then still a cop, after his daughter’s funeral. But there’s never a clear sense of what Lester's objective is; whether he really wants to help Lillian or use her as an excuse for some kind of personal revenge.

The sheriff, Whizzer and the other grey-haired workers at the mill functioned as a kind of Greek chorus in the novel but don’t have a lot to do here after their initial appearance and one randomly spliced in scene much later. Their main function now seems to be to suggest how everyone is scared to death of Blackway. But if this is the case, why does Nate have no problem with simply tagging along, though perhaps the fact Lester seems to have treated him well in the past is enough to potentially put his own life in danger?  

All the actors seem to be on autopilot, simply spitting out their lines while they try to hit their marks. And since there’s no character psychology to work with, Alfredson, the older brother of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy director Tomas Alfredson, can’t but take a workmanlike approach to each scene. As strung together by editor Hakan Karlsson (another Swede, who has worked with Alfredson before), the scenes don’t really have a cumulative effect and the randomly popping up flashbacks don’t help in terms of giving the film any flow or direction.

Indeed, the way in which the search for Blackway unfolds feels arbitrary, with scenes of the trio driving through the mist-covered landscapes -- in drably handsome widescreen -- alternated with visits to logging operations, a crackhouse-style motel and a seedy bar that feel like they could’ve appeared in any order. There’s rarely any sense of danger, despite a big, insistent and often jagged score and the fact the protagonists get into a violent bar brawl, set another place on fire, rescue a woman handcuffed to a bed and the guns come out for the big (but entirely perfunctory-feeling) finale, at a secluded place in the woods called Boyd’s Job.

The film’s stab at a kind of backwoods philosophy is also risibly black-and-white, with Lester suggesting and Lillian subsequently adopting the idea that “some people are just bad”. I guess the same could be said about some movies.

Production companies: Enderby Entertainment, Gotham Group

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles, Ray Liotta, Alexander Ludwig, Lochlyn Munro, Hal Holbrook, Steve Bacic, Dale Wilson

Director: Daniel Alfredson

Screenplay: Joe Gangemi, Gregory Jacobs, based on the novel by Castle Freeman Jr.

Producers: Rick Dugdale, Anthony Hopkins, Gregory Jacobs, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Lindsay Williams

Executive producers: Joe Gangemi, Daniel Petrie, Jonathan Hendriksen, Tim Williams, Yoshi Kawamura, Don Monaco, Patricia Monaco, Sean Lydiard, Jim Steele

Director of photography: Rasmus Videbaek

Production designer: James Hazell

Costume designer: Jenni Gullet

Editor: Hakan Karlsson

Music: Klas Wahl, Anders Niska

Casting: Julia Kim, Candice Elzinga

Sales: UTA / Electric Entertainment


No rating, 90 minutes