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SXSW’s Director of Film Ms. Janet Pierson called Galveston an “easy yes,” referring to the painstaking process of finalizing films to debut at the festival, now in its 25th year. The lights dimmed in the historic Paramount Theater and frames from Mélanie Laurent’s emotionally expressive picture began transporting viewers into a filthy, irredeemable world of hitmen, prostitution and terminal illness. The excursion is punctuated with striking performances from the story’s two protagonists, Rocky and Roy, played by Elle Fanning and Ben Foster respectively, but very quickly the film derails into meandering subplots that stretch the journey into an unbearable 90 minutes. In my book, this is an easy “no.”

The picture opens to a hurricane bearing down on the Gulf coastline and a small cottage unprotected from the storm. The camera slowly sweeps through someone’s quaint existence until a gush of wind destroys a glass window and the screen blanks to black.

In New Orleans, Roy (Foster) sits down with a doctor to (not) discuss what he already knows; he’s terminally ill. The disgruntled patient storms away and later reports to his mob boss. He’s tasked with handling a “problem,” but upon executing the task, he discovers he’s been double-crossed. People die. Roy barely escapes with his life and not before rescuing a captive prostitute (Rocky, played by Fanning) and recovering evidence that could screw over his deceitful employer.

The two head for Galveston. Normally this trip lasts an afternoon, however, Laurent stretches it over days. It’s darn lovely to look at though. Along the way a third traveler joins; it’s Rocky’s child sister which she rescues from their abusive step-father. The trio take refuge in a dilapidated motel community somewhere in the Texas coastal town.

Eventually the cruel reality of these chosen and unchosen lives comes to bear as time cards get punched and the devil comes for his due.

The final scene is an elder Roy recounting his life in that small cottage we saw fighting and losing against an approaching hurricane in the opening scene, a metaphor for the inevitable outcome of positioning life in the path of destructive forces.

Galveston teaches us just how awful human beings can be to themselves and, one another, and that the choices we make can have unthinkable consequences. And even if you manage to clear those hurdles, the road to redemption is brutally difficult to travel, let alone, overcome. Sometimes these lessons take the audience into subordinate adventures that only lengthen and distract from an already fragile story. The film is adapted from True Detective scribe Nic Pizzolatto’s novel of the same name. Instead of sticking to one single plot, the film feels like it wants to explore all of Pizzolatto’s tale and noir sensibilities. As a result, the film is a drawn-out mess, albeit a beautifully captured and well-acted one. It didn’t hold my attention and I expect your mileage will be similar.

Galveston is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Chris Giroux
Chris Giroux is founder and editor-in-charge at Movie Reelist, an entertainment news and review blog serving the most fanatic moviegoers. Chris started his publication in Detroit in 2010 and has since reviewed hundreds of films and interviewed numerous talent across the country. He is an avid film festival attendee and red carpet photographer, having shot the likes of Steven Spielberg, Bill Murray, Mark Hamill, and more. Chris grew up in New Mexico, where he studied mass media writing while working in post-production and multimedia authoring. It is also where he discovered Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from New York, resulting in an unhealthy Kurt Russell obsession.

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