The brothers Goetz - Kevin and Michael - have made one of the most enthralling, brutal, and deeply haunting one-setting pictures I've ever seen. Scenic Route is a terrifying picture, part road movie, part character drama, and part pot-boiling thriller, as it depicts two longtime friends who've keenly drifted apart further drift apart after their truck breaks down in the middle of the desert. Armed with hardly any food, water, or means of survival, they become increasingly furious at each other for dealing with each others' current life positions as a product to critique to make up for their own personal failures. The kind of film where, once you're done watching it, you want to silently, quietly walk and thoroughly contemplate everything you've seen. Don't be alarmed if you haven't had an experience like that - it's unfathomably rare.
The friends are Mitchell and Carter, played brilliantly by Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, who both seem to be going through a more ambitious phase in their careers. Mitchell is a successful, yet unfulfilled office-worker with a second wife and kid, living a content life that pays the bills but lacks the charm and happiness he got from being an aspiring musician. Carter chose to follow his dreams with being a writer/novelist, which has left him broke and homeless in his early-thirties. He tells Mitchell that his new wife and child are nothing but things he gave himself because of his feelings of emptiness. He tells Carter that at least he's not a shallow, broke loser with no direction or guidance in life. These scenes are heartbreaking, even if we never saw Mitchell and Carter when they were the best of friends.
Not doubt the heat and the current situation breed a lot into the anger of the two men, however some of it seems to be authentic and true emotion. Time passes, and then more time passes, and the men try desperately to outlast the mercilessly hot days, the brutally cold nights, and the feelings of exhaustion, starvation, and dehydration while waiting on a stranded road, hoping in vein a car comes gracious enough to pick them up.
All I can say is the desert-land has scarcely been more haunting, lethal, and beautiful than it is in Scenic Route. It instantly reminded me of the photography and beauty Gus Van Sant's underrated Gerry had and the premise it occupied too. The film was about two men named Gerry who were stranded out in the desert, unable to find their car, and desperately walked for miles around the desert, sometimes talking, sometimes not, in hopes to find their car. It was a slow but sad film that was more concerned with tone and impressionistic routes. Scenic Route, on the other hand, focuses more on dialog and events all on a small-scale. Duhamel and Fogler give career-making performances as their sanity is tested and their mental capacity is strained in the remorseless desert. After partaking in the Nicholas Sparks' movie adaptation of Safe Haven, how will girls react to Duhamel adopting a Travis Bickle-esque Mohawk in this film? My guess is they won't care, for they probably won't even bother to see this or even hear about it. By the way, who is Travis Bickle? Ultimately, the film is a bold character study on two characters that are lost in translation long before the car even breaks down. Both of them are unhappy in their current life positions, but neither of them will admit it. Their anger isn't solving anything, or is it providing them a catalyst in their current position? Their venting could be equal parts healthy and therapeutic in the face of a dire problem. But when their bickering evolves into cold violence, then it becomes less therapeutic and more catastrophic to their mind and body.
The descent into madness and violence is wonderfully portrayed here, mainly because it shows the cause-and-effect verbal blows one right after another. Writer Kyle Killen (who also penned Jodie Foster's The Beaver) takes his time to give these characters humanity and depth before diving into the violence and the brutality. This makes the impending explosion that much more powerful and gripping. Needless to say, the fight they have is one of the most intense, depressing, and rigid battles between two friends I've seen lately.
But the key to the film's success as a whole is its humanity, its lengthy dialog-exchanges, and finally, the suspense of the characters awaiting rescue or searching for it on their own. In only eighty minutes, Scenic Route delivers what many two-hour long films can't accomplish, and it hits the ground running with its premise, wasting no time, talent, or tribulation in the face in its excursion. I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't see a film as raw or as potent as this one for the rest of the year.
Starring: Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler. Directed by: Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz.
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