Nicolas Cage appears in a lot of movies and while they are sometimes here-and-gone affairs, the actor regularly brings an intensity to his roles that makes them highly watchable. This intensity is certainly present in his latest film, “Grand Isle.”
Directed by Stephen S. Campanelli, Cage stars as a brooding, drunken, ex-marine named Walter. The character has a love-hate relationship with his wife, Fancy (KaDee Strickland), and when Walter hires a man, Buddy (Luke Benward), to mend a fence prior to a hurricane, things go very badly. It is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” but rather more bloody in its sensibilities.
Rather than Walter, it is Buddy who is the lead character in the film and the vast majority of the tale is told in a frame, with Buddy, bloodied but alive, recounting the events to a police detective (Kelsey Grammer). Although we are less concerned about Buddy’s survival due to this, the psychosexual games he is drawn into between Fancy and Walter certainly have the potential to destroy’s Buddy’s marriage and cost more than one person their life.
Filmed in dark and intense fashion, with Fancy’s ancestral home in Grand Isle, Louisiana as the main setting, we watch as Buddy goes back and forth between the tales told by Walter and those told by Fancy, never quite sure whom to believe or what he should do. Campanelli and company wonderfully place the audience right there with him in the semi-darkness (metaphorical and literal), hoping that the storm ends soon or that Buddy can just find a room to hole up for the night where he won’t be bothered again.
Beyond that, the movie does a wonderful job keeping the audience guessing about just what took place overnight and why Buddy is in the police station. There is a constant sense of danger to the proceedings in the house and the possibilities of the love and lust and enmity and hate boiling over into some sort of physical action feels inevitable, particularly as Buddy has blood all over him as he’s telling the tale, but the exact way that will occur is unknown.
“Grand Isle,” rather than focusing on the gruesome bits of the story (although there are those), puts pain itself front and center. Walter is consumed not just by his military past, but also whatever has occurred between himself and his wife in that house. Fancy is hurting from the way Walter treats her, but maybe something more as well. And Buddy, well, Buddy is struggling with what it means to be a father and a husband and how best to provide for those he loves. Each character hurts and each character is susceptible to kindness because of their pain, and that makes all the betrayals and reversals that much more significant for each as well.
All of these elements are juggled as the slow burn of a movie creeps forward. The script from Iver William Jallah and Rich Ronat keeps all the balls in the air seemingly with ease. With such disturbing material it is wrong to say that it is “a joy to watch,” but it is entirely compelling.
Or, it is, until, maybe, just a little bit before the credits roll. While the climax of the film doesn’t come from out of the blue, it still feels like there is something, unsastisfyingly, left unsaid. It is, of course, not the duty of “Grand Isle” to leave the viewer satisfied with the tale being told, but the culmination of the build ends with more of a fizzle than an explosion. Perhaps too much is told rather than shown.
Even so, make no mistake, “Grand Isle” will stay with you and the final reveals make sense in conjunction with everything that has come before, but it never quite hits with the force of impact one wants. It is a good movie when one truly believes that it could have been a great one.
photo credit: Screen Media Films