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Review: Detour – “A stylish neo-noir road movie”

“Don’t regret the things you do, just the things you don’t.”

Enunciated emphatically by thug and all around though guy Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen of Brooklyn and The Place Beyond The Pines’ fame) in a perfect trailer moment, these words encapsulate Detour’s thematic thread. Dichotomy is at the heart of this story and all the players involved are split between dealing with the circumstances and harbouring secrets that prove how appearances may often be deceiving. After all, not very long into the film’s running time, our expectations of watching yet another revenge thriller are meant to be surprisingly subverted.

Detour is in fact a stylish neo-noir road movie with an unexpected twist, which delivers first class entertainment over its lean 90 minutes. The talented trio of young emerging stars leading the cast is enough a reason to lure you to the cinema and they most certainly live up to their promise. However, the real surprise is British filmmaker Chris Smith (read our interview with him here), who playfully experiments with narrative structure whilst paying homage to the 70s via split screens and other aesthetic tricks.

There’s no denying that slick cinematography and production design underline that style is of the essence here but every cinematic tool is employed by Smith to make sure the narrative never loses grip on the audience, keeping them guessing until the very last piece of the puzzle is laid out before their eyes. If, like in my case, the Bristol-native director has been off your radar so far, this latest entry in his filmography will definitely ignite curiosity about his back catalogue, most of which is of the twisty kind.

A bit reminiscent of Soderbergh, sometimes channeling Nicolas Winding Refn, Smith seems to have his major influence in Alfred Hitchcock, admittedly following into the footsteps of contemporary thrillers that openly evoke the master of suspense, such as 2007’s, Shia LaBeouf-starrer Disturbia. Despite any possible influences and references, he needs credit for his attempt at defying the tropes of genre-film through both structural choices and thematic substance.

Detour’s basic premise revolves around young and wealthy law student Harper (Mud, The Tree of Life and X-Men Apocalypse’s Tye Sheridan) who hires the aforementioned Johnny Ray to kill his scheming stepfather (True Blood’s Stephen Moyer). Harper believes the man is responsible for the car accident that put his mother into an irreversible coma in order get his hands on the woman’s possessions.

On the eve of what’s expected to be the day doctors will pull the plug on the machines which still keep his mother into a vegetative state, Harper drowns his sorrows at a bar and whilst intoxicated, he eavesdrops on a conversation from a nearby table. Johnny Ray is telling a bunch of other thugs about his most recent con act gone wrong. He and pole-dancer/sorta-girlfriend Cherry (The Diary Of A Teenage Girl’s Bel Powley) lure men into hotel rooms, drug them and rob them but the latest one didn’t pass out and assaulted Cherry, who shot him dead in self defense and was left with a scar on her face to show for it.

Spotting Harper’s stares, the hot-blooded Johnny Ray drags the drunken preppy boy into getting acquainted over more booze, leading him to confess his troubles. When the thug tempts him with the prospect of a hit job, Harper lets the alcohol talk and accepts the offer. However, the following morning, when Johnny Ray and Cherry show up at his door, ready to follow through with the plan, Harper barely remembers the previous night’s agreement.

At a timid sign of reluctance, the boy is immediately met with a reaction that clarifies how cold feet are not an option when doing business with Johnny Ray. Faced with no escape – or is he – our protagonist complies. He gets on the road with the delinquent duo to stalk his stepfather in Vegas where the man set off supposedly on a business trip, though Harper suspects he’s meeting a long-time lover.

As we shift into road movie mode, the more we get to know this trio of characters, the more we’re bound to learn how each of them has their own agenda and nothing is what it looks like. Giving any further clues would spoil the fun that filmmaker Chris Smith has concocted with his taut script and then expertly executed on screen but rest assured, you’re in for a compelling ride.

The cast, once again, is the cherry on top of a flick that’s bound to surprise you, even when you start figuring out where things might be headed. That’s a testament to both Smith’s direction and the three rising stars’ ability to embrace their roles believably and to share the kind of chemistry that makes the events unfold at a brisk pace and in a rather entertaining fashion. The origin of this successful outcome lies in a solid screenplay, which takes a tired premise, spins it around structurally and infuses it with moral dilemmas that leave you pondering whose side you’re on.

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