Whitewash: Tribeca Review

Whitewash film Still - H 2013

Whitewash film Still - H 2013

Thomas Haden Church bridges the credibility gap in snowed-in fugitive tale.

Advertising vet Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais won Best New Narrative Director for his feature debut.

NEW YORK — An unemployed drunk can only take the Good Samaritan thing so far in Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais' Whitewash, a Quebec-set tale that would qualify as an on-the-run fugitive pic if, in fact, the fugitive ever went anywhere. Thomas Haden Church hits the exact balance of desperation and resignation demanded by the peculiar story, and should attract enough attention to make arthouses a realistic target.

The actor plays Bruce, a snowplow operator barred from driving since he was busted for DWI. But that's something we learn only after seeing him violate that prohibition with a vengeance: In the opening scene, he tears down snowy residential streets in his mini-plow, runs down a pedestrian, and takes the corpse outside town to bury it under a mountain of snow. Too drunk to know the way home, he drives deep into a nearby forest and gets the vehicle permanently stuck.

The puzzling half-heartedness of Bruce's attempts to get home in the following days is explained, sort of, in a series of flashbacks: The man he killed, Paul (Marc Labreche), wasn't a stranger, and police will likely be looking for at him at Bruce's home, where he's been staying for a couple of days. We watch the two men meet, with Bruce becoming an unlikely savior who interrupts Paul's suicide attempt, and see Paul take increasing advantage of his benefactor's feelings of responsibility. Labreche projects an air of sleazy entitlement as Paul asks not just for a place to crash but, eventually, for money; Church responds with the weary tolerance of a man who's had his own share of tough breaks. But the detente can't last.

Back in the present tense, Hoss-Desmarais conveys how physically demanding Bruce's survival is, but his script (cowritten with Marc Tulin) is content to watch him make occasional trips to gather supplies -- their futility is the closest the film gets to black comedy -- without attempting to find a more sustainable hideout. The film's only sense of urgency or drama comes from the camera's occasional slow push-ins on its trapped subject, a man who's unwilling to die, despite seeming not quite convinced that living's worth the struggle.

Production Company: Micro_scope

Cast: Thomas Haden Church, Marc Labreche, Anie Pascale, Sylvio Archambault, Vincent Hoss-Desmarais

Director: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais

Screenwriters: Marc Tulin, Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais

Producers: Luc Dery, Kim McCraw

Director of photography: Andre Turpin

Production designer: Emmanuel Frechette

Music: Serge Nakauchi Pelletier

Costume designer: Myriam Hoss-Desmarais

Editor: Arthur Tarnaowski

Sales: Charlotte Mickie, EOne Films International

No rating, 90 minutes