Virginia ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Jennifer Connelly’s bleached blond hair is kind of a perfect metaphor for this film: it’s roots are showing and it’s a bit confused about its style.

Richard Tipton (Ed Harris) is an experienced sheriff, lost in the vagaries and excesses of the corruption of that particular job, who is now running for office of Senator of his home state of Michigan, Mormon bible belt country. He’s been carrying on an affair with the mentally ill and somewhat vindictive Virginia (Connelly) for the past two decades and is now keen to cover this up before elections. She won’t hear a bar of this though and proceeds to try to ruin his life at every turn.

This is an excellently cast movie: from the two experienced leads to the smaller supporting roles. Even if Jennifer Connelly appears to be trying on a brash, sassy turn similar to Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy.

Harrison Gilbertson (Need for Speed, The Turning) as Virginia’s son, Emmett, is an excellent audience surrogate and we feel his guilt in a side plot love story with the sheriff’s daughter Jessie Tipton, played wistfully and endearingly by Emma Roberts (We’re The Millers, American Horror Story: Coven). Toby Jones (Berberian Sound Studio, The Hunger Games) finds an edge to bevel the somewhat bent business owner Max on, while Yeardley Smith (The Simpsons) milks the comic potential out of a small physical role as social worker Mrs Whitaker.

The problem though, is that an excellent cast can only go so far with a poorly written script. Here the issue isn’t so much that there are lots of non-sequiturs and dialogue that just plain clangs, but that the whole thing could do with a good going over with a blue-pencil on the plethora of secondary characters to increase the stakes and up the pace.

The tone of the finished movie is a bit uneven too. There’s a lot of quirkiness that can be felt itching to get out, but it’s not realised in any particularly visual way. So a story that would have felt at home in the hands of, say, the Coen Brothers, just falls a bit flat and takes itself more seriously than it should.

All technical elements get a tick for being adequate, but not really anything standout here. Again, a more stylised visual approach might have help make this more involving.

Very much an actor’s character study piece than something for audiences to grasp greater themes of, there’s still enough here to latch onto if you have the patience for the somewhat annoying people that populate this slightly over-flabby story.

(Originally published on www.13thfloor.co.nz, 19th May 2014)