Dixieland ★★★½

That faded, wilted American flag is this poetic, powerful drama's signifier. There is no American dream, and this fated film stands as a portrait of how we live in America, today. The tone reminds me of a Southern Soderbergh, with moments of lyricism evoking Malick with a Southern accent. Chris Zylka is a good-hearted ex-con called Kermit, just sprung from jail for running his mom's boyfriend, sleazy strip-club owner Larry Pretty (Brad Carter), out of her hot tub with a shot gun. Riley Keough's electric, blank expression puts one in mind of Kuleshov's famous editing experiment, though Jonathan Rosenbaum has written about the sexism of critiques of the "blank" performance in women and not men (it's considered tough when Clint does it). Riley Keough is Elvis's granddaughter, and she plays the young woman who lives next door to Kermit. Her gaze is fascinating, startled to find all that history haunting her cheekbones. Faith Hill, the country star, is memorable as Kermit's good-hearted mother, who is loving and, in her way, innocent, and whose sartorial choices evoke prostitution. You get the sense she might have had had Kermit early. "So we grew up together, my mother-child and me." She wants him to stay away from his goofy buddies, who sell drugs. He'd like to cut hair, and he's good at. Steve Earle is on hand as a crusty, good-hearted uncle who lives around the way, and who owes the local drug dealer money. In Pearl, Mississippi, where you grow up fast, where there's no employment, poll dancing is work if you are a woman, with intimations of prostitution; drug dealing is a good business if you are a young man. In the writing and performances, the movie works like a well-turned short story, or even a Springsteen song. These feel like real people--really just kids--who happen to deal drugs, not "drug dealers." There are beautiful, effusive, sun-drenched shots of swimming holes where the young lovers loll. We meet them at those moments when they are forced to take certain decisions, action moments, life-or-death decisions. Kermit should know that "one last job" never ends well. One scene jars: at the strip-club where Riley dances, Kermit saves her diffident, embarrassed turn on the poll from boos and disaster by impulsively borrowing cash from his drug dealer and making it rain for her. (Now he's into the drug dealer for the loan.) The problem with the scene is how it's shot: it's full-on intoxicated with the moment, like a hip-hop video, whereas it should have been shot to drain the moment, to distance us. Karolyn and I saw this strong picture at the Clarksdale Film Festival. Later that night, we ran into the writer/director, Hank Beford, over at Red's Blues Club and we told him he'd made a powerful piece. The film interweaves its fiction with interviews with real-life dancers.

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