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Review: They Shoot at Salesmen, Don't They?
The punishing landscape of America between the coasts is punctuated by depression, desperation, and death in "Blood for Dust."
Far be it for me to blush at the drop of a director’s name, but as of late, I’ve been pretty high on the films of Rod Blackhurst - at least two of them, anyway. His 2016 effort Here Alone is an incredible challenge to the zombie horror genre, as it twists and turns all around the expectations and assumptions of a dystopic virus thriller. His sense of exposing the vulnerable and intimate in the midst of horrific and bloody action absolutely captivated me, especially in between long stretches of quiet tension and slow-building conflict. I would compare Blackhurst to the great John Hyams, whose films Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning and Alone are bangers in their own right.
Coming soon will be Blood for Dust, which I was very thankful to catch recently. Starring Scoot McNairy and Kit Harington, the film follows a similar trajectory and pattern as Here Alone: Brief bursts of heavy action that punctuate stretches of eery calm, sad reflection, and tense silence. Both movies are also set in roughly unpopulated places, Blood for Dust being around the Montana region, along truck routes, lonely diners, and snowy landscapes. An empty neighborhood development is even used for the action climax.
Scoot and Kit play polar opposite salesmen who share a past of shady business deals, the end of one opens the film with a suicide, pulling back from a man’s blown-out skull. Years later, both are hustling to get by - Scoot as Cliff, who tries in earnest to sell defibrillators, and Kit as Ricky, making cash by some black-market ways. Ricky involves Cliff in a drug-driver deal, as nobody would suspect a mild-mannered and meek guy like him of carrying illegal substances.
Of course, things go awry, and both men have to contend with the ghosts of their own pasts and the prospects that present choices will have on their potential futures. Desperate times, desperate measures. From bad to worse, to lucky - maybe.
Blood for Dust starts and ends on crime scenes, where one pulls back from the shot and one moves forward into a single image. I feel that these movements properly summarize the film, which for me is very exciting and bold. We begin with a revelation and finish with speculation. This is not a mystery tale, but these two clips do haunt and hold, suggesting so much by saying hardly anything at all. That’s the movie. It delivers a hard punch from such a small frame.
What if Glengarry Glen Ross had a gun thrown in the mix? Who would use it and how? I thought about this after Blood for Dust ended, and determined that director Rod Blackhurst wasn’t so much interested in the action - which does for sure get intense and bloody and detailed - but rather in the words left unsaid by the characters Cliff and Ricky, either from hesitation and exhaustion or by the inability to vocalize and choose what to say and when to speak. They talk with plenty on their minds but are too soft-spoken to get things out, especially Ricky. Kit Harington plays Ricky with self-made but maybe false confidence, and a lifetime of trauma hanging over his head. Scoot plays Cliff as guilty by circumstance, the weight of which he chooses to bear down hard on himself. When Cliff eats a strip joint burger, he does so without savoring or enjoying it at all, despite having all the time in the world in between sales calls: he’s just filling his stomach. He’s just trying to survive in America.
They’re just trying to get by.
It’s sad that bullets end up being the words Cliff and Ricky wish they had spoken, but such are the choices that we make and don’t make. Blood for Dust uses violence not as a means of resolution or justice, but as another stop on an interstate route. As another sales appointment. As another depressing burger to choke down. Set in the mid-1990s during the days of the Clinton administration, Blood for Dust can’t get away from Reaganomics and the wrath it wrought on the American dream. On the idea of success. It was violence all by itself, and one that’s still being felt.
To articulate this with a gore-splattered desk was a great way to kick off the film. Rod Blackhurst is one to watch out for. 4/5
Blood for Dust screened at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival and is coming soon to theaters and VOD.
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