Judge Clark Douglas was once a small-town sheriff. Granted, the town consisted solely of a one-bedroom apartment.
The simple life is rarely simple.
"She's better when I'm around."
Facts of the Case
Sheriff Richard Tipton (Ed Harris, The Rock) has finally decided that it's time for him to run for the even more prestigious office of state representative. He has a great deal of support as he begins his campaign: after all, he's a respected Mormon family man living in an area that holds Mormon family men in very high regard. What most voters don't know is that Sheriff Tipton has been conducting an affair with a local woman named Virginia (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind) for over twenty years. Virginia has struggled with mental instability throughout her life, and lately the Sheriff has begun to wonder whether she might accidentally expose their relationship with her reckless behavior. Meanwhile, Virginia's teenage son Emmett (Harrison Gilbertson, Accidents Happen) begins falling for Sheriff Tipton's daughter Jessie (Emma Roberts, Scream 4) and wondering whether the Sheriff might actually be his long-lost father.
I recently had the misfortune of seeing Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly stranded in a poorly-crafted, misguided film called Salvation Boulevard. Just a few days later, I found myself watching those same two actors stranded in the poorly-crafted, misguided Virginia. Both movies attack religion with vigor (the former goes after megachurch evangelicals while the latter goes after Mormons), but both make their attacks with such broad strokes and such little insight that the punches never land. Virginia at least features decent performances, but the fine work of the two adult leads is wasted on a movie that is alternately unfocused and mean-spirited.
The film was written and directed by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for his Milk screenplay. However, Virginia is the sort of film that is so wrong-headed that you can't help but wonder if Gus Van Sant was responsible for most of what made Milk an exceptional film. Between this and Black's screenplay for Clint Eastwood's surprisingly terrible J. Edgar, it's clear that the writer is wildly inconsistent at best. The sad part is that Virginia is clearly a personal film for Black (who was raised in a Mormon home by a mother with a disability), but the finished product feels more like rambling bitterness than deeply personal insight.
The film's central figure is Emmett, a rather bland figure whose journey never really generates much interest. It's hard to say whether Gilbertson's unmemorable performance or Black's flat direction is to blame, but it's difficult to develop a real interest in the kid's plight. The romance he shares with Emma Roberts is clunky (she won't kiss him until he fully accepts her religion, and after he does she's willing to marry him—these things happen in life, but I suspect they don't happen in such an unconvincing way), and his relationship with his mother never quite seems to have the depth it ought to. That's a shame, because Emmett and Virginia are clearly the only two characters Black has much affection for.
The world of the movie is loaded with small-minded stereotypes, with Ed Harris' character at the receiving end of much of the film's anger. Harris is alternately a slick con man, a dumb hick, a savage bully, a sexual deviant and a holier-than-thou hypocrite—whatever evil thing the film needs him to be from scene to scene. Harris sells every moment with surprising complexity, but his fine work is undercut by the film's insistence on using him as the butt of cheap jokes (the scene mocking the Sheriff's "magic underwear" comes to mind). Similarly, Jennifer Connelly's undeniably impressive work as the mentally-distressed title character isn't as powerful as it should be thanks to the film's scattershot nature.
Virginia also suffers from a mediocre DVD transfer that offers poor detail and a generally flat image. It's not horrible, but it's below par for a modern standard-def release. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track is just as weak, as several dialogue scenes sound hollow and tinny. The melancholy score receives a decent mix, however. The only supplement is a disposable making-of featurette.
It's hard to believe it, but at one point Virginia was even more of a mess than it is now. The film was received very poorly when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2010, causing Black to go back to the drawing board and re-edit the flick in the hopes of creating a more satisfying experience. Unfortunately, the finished product is still a disappointingly sloppy film and a waste of talented actors.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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