Galveston ★★★

Perhaps I'm more forgiving of this, as at least three-quarters of it is banally familiar. Not just with the strangers-on-the-run plot about evading criminals, yet also the sleaziness of Pizzolatto's source, that seemed to be wedged in some discarded bargain bin. The ins-and-outs of extortion are muddily handled, too, including a handful of predictably suspicious characters at a motor lodge who don't trust the main duo.

However, actress-turned-director Mélanie Laurent truly outdoes this material, which is what I'm likely to remember. The same goes for DP Arnaud Potier who lenses it with elegaic grittiness. From how Louisiana and Texas are emanated in sleek neo-noirishness landscapes, to generally atmospheric distant-shots of the car beneath streetlights. The action front is even better, with its revolving focus on New Orleans ex-con Roy (Ben Foster) as he rescues call girl Raquel (Elle Fanning), and the astonishing one-take throughout the warehouse.

It's a shame I wasn't more responsive to this dispiriting crime/thriller. As there's aspects here—performative and formally, that deserve to be in Best of Year contention. Both Foster and Fanning are immensely powerful; a ticking time-bomb of effusive emotion, despite their central relationship being written in humdrum tedium. Since she's as an escort and chooses to advance, he refuses out of testy anger, and much bickering occurs until they arrive at Galveston's lodge. Yet these two lost souls gradually find a common ground, and manage to enjoy each other's company, in what amounts to predictably genial redemption.

Although Roy works as an enforcer for double-crossing Stan (Beau Bridges), and kills his "assassins" in the process, that makes him ambivalent on how to handle Raquel. Provide her with a sense of surrogate protection, or ditch her when enough miles have been obtained. There's little that's innovative about that. Still, I was grimly enticed by their character traits. Whether it's Foster's taciturn frustration as a chain-smoking, hard-drinking layabout (who's diagnosed with terminal lung cancer), to Fanning's mix of subjugated wails and effervescent rediscovery, when her young 3 y.o. sister, Tiffany is brought along.

Revealing the extent of Hurricane Ike's climactic 20-year timejump would be a disservice. Yet I found it both candid and melancholy, in a long-awaited mutual truth to find closure. Whether such a wait is worth the journey, I can't vouch, since the rest of Pizzolatto's shtick is one mundane route. The other crew are in superb form, though, and manage to rise above and beyond. A grueling life can be changed on a spontaneous whim.