Little Accidents: Sundance Review

A compelling but not self-important small-town drama.

A small town deals with the aftermath of a mining disaster in Sara Colangelo's debut.

PARK CITY — A small-town tragedy leads to moral crises on all sides in Sara Colangelo's Little Accidents, a sober drama that makes class central to the story without ever sounding like it has an agenda. The debut feature bodes very well for Colangelo and for lead actors Boyd Holbrook and Jacob Lofland, who are surrounded by enough bigger names to boost the film's commercial appeal, giving it good odds with serious-minded moviegoers.

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Holbrook plays Amos, a coal miner who was the sole survivor of a mining accident caused by managerial negligence. Returning home after months in an out-of-town hospital, he still doesn't have full use of his limbs. More crippling, though, is that he's no longer able to be an ordinary guy in town: Families of his deceased coworkers expect him to testify that the accident was the coal company's fault, guaranteeing a big cash settlement; the miners who weren't touched by the tragedy, on the other hand, expect him to keep quiet lest the mine shut down.

High school freshman Owen (Lofland, almost as good here as he was in Mud) is the son of one of the accident's victims; though his newly widowed mother (Chloe Sevigny) is using her settlement cash to shower him with the latest electronics, he still has a hard time fitting in with well-off schoolmates like JT (Travis Tope), whose father (Josh Lucas's Bill Doyle) is the coal company middle-manager most responsible for the accident. During a confrontation in the woods, Owen is accidentally involved with JT's death; he hides the body and maintains a guilty silence while, for the next month, Bill and wife Diana (Elizabeth Banks) conduct a very public search for their missing son.

Small towns afford storytellers the chance to mix characters of very different status with minimal contrivance. So it's not hard to accept when Diana, grieving and feeling uncomfortable at home with a man whose guilt she's starting to piece together, stumbles into friendships with both Owen and Amos. Both the boy and the man are keeping secrets, not knowing whether telling the truth would cause more harm than good; Diana, wrestling with her own demons, is oblivious.

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Colangelo follows these parallel one-on-one relationships while remaining attentive to the feel of the community surrounding them. Marcelo Zarvos's sensitive score and fine lensing by Rachel Morrison make her job easier, but local color derives as much as anything from Holbrook's performance, which skirts all cliches of working-class characterization. Amos isn't a stereotype but a man, trying to maintain his modest sense of self while life conspires to make him a central figure in his town's fight for survival.

Production Companies: Maiden Voyage Films, Archer Gray Productions, Tiderock Media, Soaring Flight Productions, Mindsmack Productions

Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Elizabeth Banks, Jacob Lofland, Josh Lucas, Chloe Sevigny, Travis Tope

Director-Screenwriter: Sara Colangelo

Producers: Anne Carey, Jason Michael Berman, Thomas B. Fore, Summer Shelton

Executive producers: Chris Columbus, Amy Nauiokas, Eleanor Columbus, Ruth Mutch, Kwesi Collisson, Mike Feuer, Todd Feuer

Director of photography: Rachel Morrison

Production designer: Chris Trujillo

Music: Marcelo Zarvos

Costume designer: Meghan Kasperlik

Editor: Suzy Elmiger

Sales: WME

No rating, 104 minutes