‘Misfortune’: Dances With Films Review

Courtesy of Gunnison Films
Well crafted but dramatically underpowered.

An Arizona-set drama revolves around the search for a stash of stolen diamonds.

A straight-up B-movie crime drama, Misfortune unfolds with a promisingly lean efficiency and no pretentions of breaking new ground. Actor-writer Desmond Devenish, at the helm of his first feature, makes the most of a small budget and uses the desert setting to disquieting effect. But while the succinctness of the low-key screenplay, by Xander Bailey and the director, is a welcome departure from the overwriting that plagues so many debut movies, it lacks the necessary punch to override the gaps in logic and make it a more distinctive genre outing.

Devenish and co-writer Bailey lead the cast of the well-crafted picture, which features brief but tasty turns from Kevin Gage, Steve Earle and Nick Mancuso, all of whom lend a toughened edge to the proceedings. The story of missing loot and cross-generational revenge pits the rudderless Boyd (Devenish) against his father’s one-time partner in felony, Mallick (Gage). Setting the drama in motion with an admirable lack of fuss, a post-heist meeting between Mallick and Boyd’s dad, Roman (Mancuso), ends badly for both of them — the former in jail, the latter dead, the diamonds’ whereabouts unknown.

Seven years later, the unemployed Boyd learns from family friend Jim (Earle) that Mallick has been paroled. No sooner has Boyd bought a gun from his small-time hustler friend Russell (Bailey, very good), than Mallick shows up demanding jewels that Boyd never knew existed. With his skeptical waitress girlfriend, Sloan (Jenna Kanell), and Russell, Boyd heads into the desert to find them, the take-no-prisoners Mallick on their heels.

The trio's needle-in-a-haystack search among boulders and scrub, on the basis of the last phone call Boyd received from Roman, is borderline ludicrous, particularly when they climb down a steep wall of rock because Boyd has “a feeling” that the goods might be down there. Though it's acknowledged, that absurdity might have been amped to deepen the idea of Boyd’s desperation as he pivots to a new resolve. The offscreen discovery of the diamonds asks the viewer to take a lot on faith, but no more than Boyd’s decision to send Russell and Sloan, who can’t stand each other, searching together while he heads off alone.

In a way that ultimately deprives the story’s final twist of its intended impact, the movie downplays certain tensions rather than tightening the vise. The dynamics between Boyd and Sloan, in particular, require a sharper emotional subtext, however believable Devenish and Kanell make the couple’s sparks of affection, flirtation and friction.

Devenish does better with the high-alert paranoia that dogs Boyd on the chase through alternately sun-drenched and pitch-black Tucson locales, all of them evocatively shot by DP Seth Johnson. Well-etched supporting turns by Vinicius Machado, Carl Bailey and Wilson Ramirez help to up the suspense.

The perfectly restrained score by Calvin Markus is a key asset that Devenish uses judiciously. He also uses sound (recorded by Max Nikoff) to effectively sub for missing visual details in a couple of action sequences — one involving a shootout, the other a wild pig. But it would take more than sound effects or a well-placed bassline to fill in the missing dramatic pieces in this diverting but underpowered tale of double-crosses.

Production company: Gunnison Films
Cast: Desmond Devenish, Xander Bailey, Jenna Kanell, Kevin Gage, Steve Earle, Nick Mancuso, Vinicius Machado, Carl Bailey, Wilson Ramirez
Director: Desmond Devenish
Screenwriters: Xander Bailey, Desmond Devenish
Producers: Desmond Devenish, Roger Steilen, Scott Lautanen
Executive producer: Sarah Kinga Smith
Director of photography: Seth Johnson
Production designer: Melissa Erdman
Editor: Cullen Metcalf-Kelly
Composer: Calvin Markus 

Not rated, 88 minutes