A constant haze of icy mist and cigarette smoke brings director Tom Hines‘ emotionally raw relationship drama “Chronic Town” beautiful grimness and undeniable power. Yet, just as the sliver of a moon hanging over cold, harsh Fairbanks, Alaska is a sign of welcome beauty, there’s also a sliver of hope for “Chronic Town’s” troubled protagonist Truman (JR Bourne).
Calling himself the “Ice Raider,” Truman zips through Fairbanks in his taxi van, picking up the exhausted hookers and barflies ending their nighttime routines in the cold, early morning hours. His own life is every bit as sorrowful. His college girlfriend (Stacy Edwards) has left him. He’s alone, despondent and it’s not long before a tragic decision ends up in Truman’s hospitalization. But a new relationship with a local stripper (Emily Wagner) offers him a chance at happiness.
It’s hard living in Fairbanks and “Chronic Town” is tough to watch at times due to the despair in Truman’s life. But beneath the crunching snow and inside the smoke-filled bars, Hines and screenwriter Michael Kamsky never let go of the film’s much-needed sense of hope. Truman’s journey just might end happily and even if it doesn’t, you can’t let go of his gripping journey.
JR Bourne, a veteran TV drama guest star, makes the “Ice Raider” a dream protagonist. It’s not just because he reaches for a bottle of vodka and a cigarette the moment he wakes up. Truman is far more than the typical movie drunk. Bourne is smart and articulate as Truman. He creates a broken man who’s still full of potential despite his demons and that makes his struggles more poignant and powerful.
Cinematographer Yiannis Samaras takes advantage of the film’s wintry setting and “Chronic Town,” premiering in the festival’s Spectrum section, is as bleak and beautiful as any Sundance film this year. Its emotions are raw but its storytelling is polished with a drama that builds steadily from start to finish. If “Chronic Town” loses any momentum, it’s when Truman ends up in group therapy under the treatment of a doctor (played by director Gary Marshall).
The banter between Truman and his fellow patients lead to some uncomfortable laughs. Luckily, Hines, a longtime character actor making his directing debut, rights his drama by putting Truman back on the Fairbanks streets. Truman is someone who pounds his head against his table in frustration when life becomes unbearable. He’s a broken man and yet, powerfully charismatic. He’s everything a protagonist needs to be and makes “Chronic Town” a male journey not to be missed.
indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW’s special Park City section.