PARK CITY 2002: Truly Independent; Victor Nunez Keeps it Close to Home
by Andy Bailey
(indieWIRE/01.17.02) — Victor Nunez is our renegade national treasure of regional independent filmmaking and in “Coastlines,” he paints a familiar picture of rural community values threatened by outside forces. In this case, it’s the drug cartels and corporations that loom large over a quaint, isolated region of the Florida gulf coast. A character-driven melodrama about avenging evil while trying to preserve an embattled sense of community, “Coastlines” delivers another seamless fusion of character, place and story, enriched by Nunez’s defiantly simplistic brand of quiet, nuanced filmmaking.
“Coastlines” may not forge any new ground for the director, though it confirms the Florida native’s standing as a truly original voice. Nunez is as much a rugged American individual as the rich, steadfast characters he paints in his films, and “Coastlines,” which is almost Western-like in its execution, ranks among his most accomplished works.
Working with a triangle of central characters rather than the single protagonists that have defined past works like “Gal Young Un,” “Ruby in Paradise” and “Ulee’s Gold,” Nunez expands his repertoire by incorporating elements of the crime thriller into his familiar brand of measured storytelling. Timothy Olyphant stars as Sonny Mann, a former drug runner who’s just been granted parole after serving three years behind bars. Upon his release, Sonny re-unites with his father (Scott Wilson) and childhood friends Ann (Sarah Wynter), a local nurse practitioner, and Dave (Josh Brolin), her deputy sheriff husband — a close-knit couple with two young daughters who embody the sort of community values Sonny needs after his release from prison.
But it doesn’t take him long to resort to his old ways of drinking and womanizing. He’s also intent on reclaiming $200,000 owed to him by his former cohorts, Fred Vance (William Forsythe) and his son Eddie (Josh Lucas) who continue to operate their lucrative Gulf Coast narcotics trade. Unwilling to pay up, the drug lords attempt to eliminate Sonny by blowing up his house. They kill his father instead and Sonny vows revenge. He finds time to rekindle old sparks with Ann, still reckless at 30 despite her solid marriage to Sonny’s best friend. Deeply conflicted in his desire for Ann, determined to avenge his father’s murder, Sonny becomes a vigilante-style hero in the eyes of his close-knit community after he takes desperate measures to maintain the purity of his surroundings.
Set in Franklin County along Florida’s northern Gulf of Mexico, in a region appropriately nicknamed “The Forgotten Coast,” the isolated setting of “Coastlines” serves as a battleground for characters destined to subsist at the very edges of the land. It’s much like Nunez himself, who has steadfastly resisted the urge to practice his art in Los Angeles or New York. Except for one brief aerial shot that reminds us just how far out on the fringes of America these people operate, Nunez remains firmly rooted on the ground and among his people.
If “Coastlines” feel like a classic Western, with its depiction of an outlaw returning to his hometown to avenge evil and re-establish calm, it’s very much in the John Ford tradition. It’s reverential closing image, a framing shot through a door frame, recalls “The Searchers” in its vindication of an embattled American family.
Towards the end of the film, when the local police chief asks Dave to file a report about Sonny’s vigilante-style dismantling of the Vance drug cartel, he begs him to “keep it simple, I don’t want this draggin’ on forever.” This is the essence of what Nunez has set out to accomplish as a filmmaker. He has always told ruthlessly simplistic stories, with deeply conservative values.
The rugged American individuals at the heart of “Coastlines” are nothing new — in fact they’re downright nostalgic. But after a convoluted Sundance fraught with muddy looking DV films that sell for $5 million, a pity party of protagonists who scream “Look at me, I’m so fucked up!” and the usual celebrity-addled promotional nonsense, “Coastlines” feels organic and refreshingly off the grid. It’s the sort of film that nourishes like mother’s milk.
Nunez returns to Sundance on a mission to restore order to American independent filmmaking in the most subversive way possible — by sticking to his guns. Nunez is as much of an avenging angel as the prophetically named Sonny Mann, both of whom go to great lengths in “Coastlines” to remind us of what we have, and where we can still go.