Judge Daryl Loomis wanders the highways hoping someone will start playing country music.
A journey into darkness.
Director Calvin Reeder made a minor splash in 2011 with his strange and minimalist thriller debut, The Oregonian. Its meandering story and sometimes grating style rubbed many viewers the wrong way, but there were plenty who saw at least some cult value in what he was doing. With his follow-up, The Rambler, it is clear that Reeder is far more interested in satisfying the latter camp than the former. Even more bizarre and violent, he ups the ante in every way, making The Rambler a must-see for fans of the weird.
Facts of the Case
The Rambler (Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend's Wedding) has just been released from prison. With nowhere else to go, he returns to his run down trailer and his job at the pawn shop. When his terrible attitude screws all of that up for him, he takes his brother up on an offer to work at his Oregon ranch. So he takes to the road, hitching his way cross country and finding himself amid some of the weirdest and most violent situations this big country has to offer.
At different turns, The Rambler appears to be a western, a road drama, and a horror movie, but it never really is any of these things. It's hard to say exactly what this is, only that it's a very strange and confusing picture, and one I wholly enjoyed. It's certainly not perfect; any semblance of plot is basically tossed out the window, and the whole thing is something of a wandering mess.
Those facts alone will disqualify it for many viewers, but Calvin Reeder's sense of style and use of random associations appeals to the part of me that couldn't stop watching Eraserhead so many years ago. As much as I appreciate a well told plot and a coherent story, sometimes this kind of weirdness is just what the doctor ordered.
As it moves from scene to scene in its episodic way, the only constants are Mulroney's Rambler and a young woman only known as "The Girl" (Lindsay Pulsipher, True Blood) who shows up in his life only to die in increasingly random and violent ways, then return like a ghost in the next place he visits. Don't expect any of it to make sense, you'll be wasting too much time thinking about it. The journey here is more important than the destination. If you're willing to take the ride, you'll find many strange occurrences and even stranger characters, including a cab driver with an insatiable appetite for Frankenstein and a scientist who drives around in a station wagon recruiting people to try out his invention that records dreams to VHS, exploding their brains in the process.
Mulroney and Pulsipher both deliver likable appealing performances. With his giant sunglasses and country masculinity, Mulroney appears to have jumped out of a 1970s road movie. Pulispher, though she has little in the way of discernible character, is really strong in her role. Natasha Lyonne (American Pie) also makes a brief appearance, but her role, like almost all the other parts in the film, is too brief to make any real impression and is only memorable for its strangeness.
In all these nutty scenarios, the film looks really nice. Dave McFarland's (The Black Tulip) cinematography is beautiful, making the New Mexico landscape appear as incredible and majestic as it is in real life. If there's any bit of consistency in The Rambler, it's the esthetic, and that's enough for me to appreciate. Plus, any film that opens with a song from the great unsung hero of country music, Terry Allen, is aces in my book.
The Rambler arrives from Anchor Bay with a technically excellent Blu-ray release. The 2.40:1/1080p transfer looks fantastic, with near-perfect clarity and definition, and great detail in nearly every frame. The flesh tones are very realistic, while blacks are deep and dark and white levels are never blown out or under lit. Really, it's as good as one can hope for in an independent film and the sound is nearly as good. The Dolby TrueHD surround track represents the film very well, bringing the ambient sounds of the American southwest to life. The whole mix is bright and strong, with clear dialog and music, making for a very well-rounded, booming sound mix. Unfortunately, there are no extras on the disc, but it's a good disc anyway and maybe it's better that the movie remain mysterious and without comment.
Gorgeous looking and unabashedly weird, The Rambler will appeal most to people who love David Lynch's bizarre esthetic, but don't want to bother figuring out the stories he tells. There's really no plot here, just a series of increasingly violent and strange moments that don't go anywhere, but are still fun to watch. It may well try the patience of some audiences, but to those with a high tolerance for movies that are willfully out there, I can definitely recommend The Rambler.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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