Judge Gordon Sullivan is on the Road to Nowhere.
On the road. On the run.
Jason Momoa has a tremendous screen presence, and not just because he's tall, muscled, and frequently without his shirt. Nope, since the beginning of his career, back on Baywatch, Momoa has always seemed more than the disposable pretty boy that directors could trot out when they needed some eye candy. His appearance as Khal Drogo earned him a lot of fans, and even the disastrous Conan the Barbarian reboot couldn't hurt his momentum. Road to Paloma shows that he has even grander ambitions than that, as the film is his debut as both writer and director. Moreover, he doesn't just give us an empty genre exercise—with his physique it would be easy to cast himself as a stereotypical action cop or whatever—but makes a more personal film out of it. Though it won't be to everyone's taste, Road to Paloma is a decent road movie that shows Momoa has a future even if he gives up acting.
Robert Wolf (Jason Momoa) is on the run. His mother was raped and killed, and Wolf wasn't shy about hunting down the man responsible and killing him in turn, but all he wants to do now is spread his mother's ashes. This leads him on a cross-country road trip with the Feds on his tail.
Road to Paloma is really two films. The first is a kind of chase movie, the likes of which we don't see any more. The 1970s and '80s were rife with films that featured someone having to run from the cops as they barreled across America's highways. Road to Paloma is never as breakneck as the best of these films, but there's little doubt that Wolf's actions will have consequences, and since he doesn't have much money and no possessions other than his bike, there's a definite element of tension as we watch him try to fulfill his mission.
The other film is much more inward looking. The film features a lot of shots of Wolf and his partner Cash riding through the America scenery. Wolf is Native American, his father is in law enforcement, and the fact that his mother was assaulted and then killed raises a number of questions about the American justice system, one that pursues Wolf with more vigor than it did his mother's killer. These landscape focused moments are more introspective, recalling the granddaddy of biker-road-movies: Easy Rider. That film used two guys riding through America as a metaphor for everything going on at the time. In Road to Paloma, it's much more character driven, with Wolf and Cash less like mythic figures.
The strength of Road to Paloma is that it successfully integrates these two halves into a cohesive whole. The tense, chase-oriented moments contribute to character development, while the more introspective moments give the chase sequences some weight. It's a tricky line to ride, especially for a debut, but Momoa does a surprisingly good job.
Momoa also deserves some credit for the film's excellent presentation. The landscape shots are beautiful, making the driving scenes much more compelling. Everyone in front of the camera is pretty good too—lots of T.V. veterans, from Lisa Bonet to Sons of Anarchy alums Chris Browning and Timothy V. Murphy.
Given the beauty of the landscapes, it's easy to wish for a slightly better Blu-ray release. The film's 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is generally lacking in detail. Some shots are pretty good, but for the most part we get a slightly hazy, indistinct look for a lot of textures. Colors are only so-so, and black levels seem patchy and lacking in depth. It's not downright ugly, but it is way less than the film deserves. Some of the problem is certainly the source—a Canon 5DMkII prosumer camera—but it's still less than expected. The film's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is slightly better, with clean and clear dialogue. The rumble of engines and the whizzing Doppler sounds of travel are pretty well-placed in the surrounds. The only extra is a deleted scene that runs a little over four minutes.
Of course not everyone is going to appreciate the integration of Road to Paloma's two storylines. There's nothing wrong with wanting a tense, chase-oriented genre film. Nor is there anything wrong with wanting even more introspective character development as Wolf puts his world back together. Road to Paloma suffers, like many road movies, from a bit of aimlessness and the sense that a few more judicious trims would have made for a tighter picture.
Road to Paloma cements writer/director/actor Jason Momoa as someone to watch in the coming years. Though the budgetary limitations keep this film from looking as good as it could, it's worth watching for Momoa fans and those who have a hankering for an old-school motorcycle flick.
There's no need to run from this one. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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