Sometimes it doesn’t matter how foolish the impetus for a plot is, but rather how the work follows up that foolishness. One well worn movie and television storyline has people covering up an accidental death. Often such tales are ridiculous, with people not realizing that they should just tell the authorities about such an occurrence and only ending up committing a crime by hiding the truth.
With “A Violent Separation,” the audience is shown that even if covering up such a death is a ludicrously foolish notion, the film can survive by what happens next. In this case it’s a constant ratcheting up of tension as the characters’ worlds slowly crumble.
The story here then is not that Ray (Ben Robson) accidentally ends up killing someone, but rather the aftermath of that death once Ray’s younger brother and sheriff’s deputy, Norman (Brenton Thwaites), helps him hide that it happened. The death itself is telegraphed and silly and doesn’t bode well for everything after. “A Violent Separation” nearly, but not quite, gets away with the idea of the cover-up though, placing it on Ray freaking out because of the death. It’s not quite enough to truly be believable, but it keeps the audience for the next bit, which is where things get interesting.
Directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz and written by Michael Arkof, this is the tale of Norman’s slow burn fall from grace. It is a movie about how one decision, even if it seems like a good one at the time, is all it can take to ruin multiple lives. So, it is not just Norman and Ray who suffer, but also Ray’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Abbey (Claire Holt); Abbey’s younger sister and would-be girlfriend of Norman, Frances (Alycia Debnam-Carey); the women’s father, Tom (Gerald McRaney); and Norman’s boss, Ed (Ted Levine).
The two relationships at the center of it all are the ones between Norman and Ray and Norman and Frances. Norman is forced into the position of being the strong one for Ray and he can’t shake off the same stance with Frances. Would she understand what happened and why? It is uncertain, but without a doubt not giving her the chance only dooms the relationship.
Thwaites is excellent as Norman, giving the audience just enough insight into this stolid ex-military man to follow him on his journey and the portrayal is wonderfully offset by those whom the character is shown opposite. Norman is one thing to Ray and another to Frances and a third to Tom and a fourth to Ed, and seeing these elements ping pong off one another is both engrossing and horrifying. Always at the center though is Norman and his increasing shakiness.
Although the relationships and their disintegration is a major success, one can’t help but wince slightly at the awkwardness of how the cover-up falls apart. Ray’s mercurial nature may be what cause it, but the film foreshadows the specifics in slightly too great a fashion. Rather than allowing the plot to simply develop, the audience, being given too much insight into what is going to happen, sits there waiting for the inevitable moments. It pulls those watching out of the story and away from the performances that make it work.
Much like its characters, “A Violent Separation” is an imperfect thing. It is both compelling and frustrating. We want to just be able to go with it, to live in the moment, but like Norman and Ray we are haunted by the knowledge that before long it is all going to come crashing down. The question then is will we, like Ray, turn away from the proceedings, afraid to look; or like Norman, do our best to push past it as the inevitability of what is to come slowly eats away at us. This critic votes for the latter, but only because it’s a movie and not an actual death.
photo credit: ScreenMedia Films