Judge Joel Pearce claims this movie has been endorsed by Jesse "The Body" Ventura.
"Fish are like people, when the weather changes so do the fish…"—Albert
While Milwaukee, Minnesota has been touted as the next Fargo, it actually channels more of the spirit of A Simple Plan. It is a crime story about ordinary people who try to do extraordinarily bad things in the hope of pulling themselves up from the mundane life in a very dreary part of the world. Like both of those other films, it relies on strong characterization and clever plot twists to set it apart. For the most part, it succeeds admirably.
Facts of the Case
Albert (Troy Garity, Bandits) isn't the brightest guy in the world, but he does have an uncanny knack for catching fish. He understands how to find them, even in the midst of the harsh Minnesota winter. He lives with his overbearing mother, Edna (Debra Monk, Dark Water), who does everything in her power to keep him as dependent on her as possible. He has won a lot of money in fishing tournaments, but they keep it all hidden away.
When Albert's mother is suddenly hit by a car and killed, Albert is left alone and vulnerable. His former employer Sean McNally (Bruce Dern, Monster) offers to help, but his motives are a bit suspect. Far more blatant are the actions of Tuey Stites (Alison Folland, Boys Don't Cry), a young con artist passing through, and Jerry James (Randy Quaid, The Ice Harvest), a traveling salesman who masquerades as Albert's father.
Nothing is as it seems, but with Albert's innocence, it is likely only a question of which of them will do the best job of conning the young fisherman. Of course, nothing is quite what it seems…
Sometimes, independent films are free to do what mainstream films can't get away with. In most A-list crime thrillers, each twist of plot is presented with appropriate fanfare, discussed in detail by several groups of people, then reiterated in narration. It's the only way they can be sure that the whole audience is staying on top of what's happening. Milwaukee, Minnesota is, if nothing else, aimed at people who are able to follow a complex plot with complex characters. The revelations about these characters are small, shown once, then integrated into the ever-evolving plot. The result is a film that is far more compelling than most crime thrillers, in which we truly are never sure what twist might come next. Even though many of the turns are familiar, they have been lovingly assembled and feel consistently fresh.
The film's real draw is the characters, though. Troy Garity has often played unintelligent characters, and he has a likable sincerity that makes his performance as Albert work quite well. In this film, the hero is the wild card, as we are never sure just what he is capable of. The film doesn't try to make any statements about the intellectually challenged, but it's refreshing to see a story about a retarded man that makes him more than a victim or misguided criminal. Albert is kind and sincere, hindered as much by his overbearing mother as he is from his disability.
Most of the other actors put in fine work as well. Bruce Dern is reminiscent of the quiet, aging losers that we see in almost every small town. Randy Quaid is appropriately slimy as the traveling salesman with more than one secret. The weakest work comes from Alison Folland and Hank Harris (Pumpkin). Tuey and Stan are always entertaining to watch, but their performances are a bit too far over the top, even for this film.
Milwaukee, Minnesota's cinematography is its other noteworthy aspect. From the bleak, white sequences outdoors to the stylized interior shots, the film has a look that steals ideas from Fargo, yet makes something unique out of those ideas. The camera slips from place to place, subtly showing us exactly what we're supposed to see. This sophisticated look gives the film a level of gloss that suggests a much higher budget.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Although Milwaukee, Minnesota is a well-made and entertaining film, it has enough twists and turns that I can't really imagine watching it again. There are some very slow sections, giving the whole production a bit of a stilted feel. I was riveted at times, entertained at others, but was never floored by what happened. The problem with so obviously following a pair of films like Fargo and A Simple Plan is that it gives a filmmaker too much to live up to. While director Allan Mindel has created a fine film, he has evoked the ghosts of much greater works. It only undermines what he has accomplished here.
The work from Tartan Video is also a mixed bag. The video quality is stellar, delivering a near reference quality rendering of the unique color palette. But the sound doesn't fare as well. The original stereo track is included, which is a flat transfer in which the voices often get a bit lost. There are also Dolby 5.1 and DTS tracks, but Tartan has once again demonstrated that a DTS logo on the front is no guarantee of a great sound transfer. Both of the surround tracks have stretched the stereo information across a wide sound stage, but haven't added any depth. The dialogue is clearer, thanks to use of the discreet center channel, but the film doesn't sound any more lively.
There are several special features on the disc. Tartan has recorded a commentary with Mindel, as well as securing an exclusive interview. After about two minutes of the interview, I wanted to throw the disc across the room. To be fair, Mindel is a friendly and intelligent speaker, but he also talks as though he's the Mother Theresa of the film industry. He blusters about his accomplishments in various industries, using the interview questions as an opportunity to boast about his past. It gets pretty hard to listen to after a while. The commentary is better, as Mindel relays stories about the shooting. Troy Garity is along for the ride, but doesn't get to talk much.
Fans of crime comedies are well advised to check out Milwaukee, Minnesota. It has a unique look and feel, as well as a few great performances. Because of the transfer, though, I can't really recommend a purchase of the disc. I doubt I'll remember much about the film a few months from now, as its not the kind of film I'd ever watch again.
Though I never care to see Milwaukee, Minnesota pass through my courtroom again, Mindel has managed to deliver a decent little film. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Director and Actor Commentary
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