There's a lot to like in Hottest State, even if far from perfect.
Ethan Hawke's direction of his (probably autobiographical) novel sets the mood perfectly, with great music, lighting and good pacing of this story. The story progresses well, contains sensual moments and with the help of an inspired, yet simple soundtrack, is at times touching. Unfortunately, the dialogs are a real weakness and something Hawke might have wanted to touch up, preferably with someone else.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the film is Mark Webber in the lead role. Simply put, I have not seen such a promising actor since noticing Ryan Gosling in "The Believer", years ago. I immediately knew Gosling was headed for stardom and this will be the case here as well. At a young age, Webber shows intensity, range and depth wrapped up in restraint. At times as whacky as a Giovanni Ribisi, as laid back and colorfully human as a Sam Rockwell, as soulful and magnetic as a Sean Penn. Webber is the complete package to be great in second roles but, just like Gosling, oozes of the charisma required to lead big movies as well. It's a matter of time for him to get noticed.
Sadly, his romantic interest Catalina Sandino Moreno is not nearly as good. I wish someone of the caliber of Abbie Cornish had been cast in the role of Sarah. Instead, Catalina's portrayal of Sarah comes off as one-dimensional and annoying for what should be a fascinating and complex character. While Webber makes us feel his character's passion for Sarah, it's tough for us as viewers to really buy Catalina's performance. The script is also at fault for that at times.
With a better second lead, a script shave of 10 to 15 minutes and tighter dialogs, this would be a classic. Instead, it is an enjoyable moment and for those of us who had never noticed Mark Webber, an opportunity to see one of the next bright stars of cinema. Nonetheless, props to Ethan Hawke for what is a very heartfelt movie.
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