Judge Paul Corupe remembers when small-town life was peaceful and idyllic. He also remebers when people used words like "idyllic."
Step up for a belly full of buckshot!
An independent crime film shot in Florida in 2002, Dunsmore is based on the true story of a backwoods tyrant who is brutally killed in a rural town where everyone has a motive. Director Peter Spirer is best known for his hip-hop documentaries, including Rhyme & Reason, but here he makes a bold foray into the world of dramatic features with a well-acted, gritty little picture that turns an eye on small town America to examine the politics of power. While not always successful, the film is much better than I expected, and would almost be worth recommending if it weren't for the lackluster DVD transfer.
Facts of the Case
When the body of town bully Ronny Roy Pritchett (W. Earl Brown, Vanilla Sky) is found full of buckshot outside a local bar, the townsfolk of the small southern settlement of Dunsmore couldn't be happier. Ronny, it is soon revealed, was an unstoppable force of evil; a killer and a thief who managed to avoid convictions by keeping witnesses quiet through threats and intimidation. When Assistant DA Walter Taylor (Kadeem Hardison, A Different World) arrives in Dunsmore to investigate the murder, he soon realizes that almost everyone had a reason to want Ronny dead—even his helpful escort, Sheriff Miller (Rus Blackwell). Instead of helping with the inquiry, each interviewee tells Taylor a story of Ronny's heartless cruelty: his penchant for torturing cats as a young delinquent, and how he impregnated Ruby (Alicia Lagano), a teenage girl, and subsequently forced his wife (Jeanetta Arquette, Boys Don't Cry) to accept her as a second spouse. They also bring up his potential involvement in the unsolved murders of Dunsmore preacher Reverend Borland (Brett Rice) and Miller's predecessor, the tough-as-nails Sheriff Breen (Barry Corbin, Dallas). Can Taylor cut through the insurgent vigilantism of the people of Dunsmore and solve this crime?
Dunsmore could have turned out pretty routine—a by-the-numbers exploitation action flick about a terrifying bully who gets his comeuppance from an unlikely, fed-up hero—but by tackling the case after the fact, this tale of crime among the cornstalks instead transcends the trappings of a typical late night B-film territory to become a fairly enjoyable white trash whodunit.
Dunsmore is almost entirely comprised of Assistant DA Taylor and Sheriff Miller soliciting flashbacks from a variety of colorful townsfolk—well done little vignettes that usually reveal more about the people that are telling them than they do about Ronny's misdeeds. Taken alone, they tell the hidden stories of Dunsmore, and help to give shape and personality to both the town, and the plot. However, as the film goes about its business heaping flashback on flashback to reaffirm that Ronny is deserving of his notorious reputation, the viewer slowly comes to the realization that Dunsmore is missing something that is essential to mysteries—the all-important hook that compels us to keep watching. The audience already knows pretty much who killed Ronny—the very first scene shows a big crowd of locals have gathered outside the bar to ambush the bully and do the job—and it becomes pretty obvious that Taylor is not going to be able to pick apart Dunsmore's conspiracy by the final credits. So where exactly does the film want to take us?
Despite lacking a tangible narrative direction, Dunsmore is still pretty good, with some exceptional acting. W. Earl Brown is letter perfect as Ronny, and his performance really propels the film when the story sputters, casting a shadow of evil over the town with his sneers, threats, and imposing presence. His scenes with the equally talented Jeanetta Arquette, who plays his first wife, Irma, are intense, especially when he dabbles in bigamy by bringing home Ruby, effectively forcing Irma into the role of domestic slave. Arquette's slow burn of rage is impressive and believable, even in such an over-the-top situation. Kadeem Hardison, who has definitely filled out since his role as the scrawny Dwayne Wayne on A Different World, is a little bland as the out-of-his-element Assistant DA, but as a stand-in for the viewer, I suppose that's really the point. The local Florida actors on the production, Rus Blackwell and Alicia Lagano, also prove their mettle alongside these bigger stars, rounding out a fine cast.
While the film itself is better than you might expect, Image's shoddy authoring of the DVD will completely ruin any interest you might have. Non-anamorphic and subject to both digital artifacts and ghosting (made even worse by gratuitous shaky-cam), this is a lousy transfer through and through, with weak blacks and dull colors. The audio, presented in stereo, fares a little better, but is subject to overemphasized panning. Not much is offered in the way of extras either—a "making of" documentary clocks in at twenty minutes, but it's primarily a promotional film, padded with scenes from the film and light on actual information. There's also a theatrical trailer.
To sum up: not a bad little film, poor disc. Spirer's flick is certainly worth a look, but Image does the good people of Dunsmore no favors, and hell, you don't want to cross those mean sonuvabitches.
Dunsmore is guilty, in more ways than one.
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