The new film from director Scott Teems (That Evening Sun) is about suspicion. No one in this small Texas town really trusts anybody else, and usually its for good reason. Based on the South African-set novel by Damon Galgut (and adapted by Teems and Andrew Brotzman), The Quarry begins with a murder. A nameless fugitive drifter (Shea Whigham) kills traveling preacher David Martinez (Bruno Bichir) and assumes his identity, shortening his name to Martin and heading to Bevel, Texas, where the preacher was meant to take over at the town’s single church. We don’t get a sense that the mostly silent drifter is a bad man, but he’s clearly capable of terrible deeds when pushed. And when Martinez offers to hear this stranger’s confession, Whigham snaps even at the thought of having to relive what are clearly some terrible moments in his recent past.
When Martin arrives in Bevel, his truck is almost immediately broken into (although nearly everything that was stolen belonged to the real preacher). He goes to the local police, led by Chief Moore (Michael Shannon), because not doing so would draw suspicion. Moore is fairly certain he knows who broke into the truck, and the boys in question just happen to be the cousins of Celia, the woman Moore is sleeping with (Catalina Sandino Moreno). Celia, as it happens, owns the house where Whigham’s character is staying. Did I mention this is a very small town, so small that you get a sense there is no room for secrets to stay secret for long?
Whigham’s portrayal of the withdrawn drifter is nearly as fascinating to watch as Shannon’s swaggering, suspicious chief, and the two have a bit of reverse chemistry. Whigham is quiet and wants nothing more than to hide, but he realizes that he must also lead a congregation, putting himself in a prominent, high-profile position in town made up of an equal mix of Mexican-Americans and your standard-issue, white-bred Texans. He studies the dead man’s bible and comes up with sermons about being a sinner and forgiveness that actually go over well in front of these new faces.
The Quarry’s actual plot kicks in when two thieves find the body of the dead preacher in the nearby quarry where Whigham disposed of him. They have a sneaking idea of who might have killed this man, while Shannon believes it was them, and even goes so far as to conduct a trial in the town (in the church, since there’s no courthouse) to determine guilt. Despite the top-notch performances across the board, The Quarry is a bit aimless as far as its themes and purpose. We get a sense that filmmaker Teems is attempting to tell a deeper story and connect a theme of god-fearing to the primary thread. It would appear that Whigham’s character is afraid he’s going to burn in hell for the things he’s done, and nearly everything he does in the time we know him seems to stem from that.
Whigham is a magnificent utilitarian actor who can pull off a masterful comedic performance as effortlessly as something intense and emotionally raw as this. Shannon, on the other hand, is just having fun being a mostly harmless son of a bitch, and we love him for it. Both actors feel like they are rising above the somewhat underwritten material, and sometimes that’s enough to enjoy what you’re watching without necessarily buying into everything we’re seeing. The Quarry is an easy film to sit through, but a tough one to care that much about (or even recall) afterwards.
The film is now available on VOD and most streaming platforms.
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