This is one strange film, there is no other way to put it. This is a dark, quirky comedy, mostly set inside death row in prison. Not really the type of setting you’d expect from a comedy, but this is a black one. Basically a young man named Heck (Jonathan Tucker) has just graduated college and is looking for work. His alcoholic mother (Christine Ebersole) ends up needing constant care, so Heck has no choice but to take a job at the local prison. The Warden (Michael Fairman) believes Heck would be perfect as their closer (aka Executioner), but all Heck wants to do is teach Latin. To further Heck’s problems his older brother Chick (Jeremy Renner) is on death row for killing his fellow camp friends. Chick’s ex girlfriend is also on death row Dori (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Heck ends up falling in love with her, despite knowing he will be the one who has to kill her.
Yes this film is a little complicated, there is actually a lot to it, which I wasn’t expecting. I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Tucker for a long time, ever since I saw him in Sleepers I’ve always liked him. This film is a great example of what a great actor he is, he was funny and sympathetic here. I really liked him in the role of Heck, even though he didn’t always do the right thing and he seemed gullible, he had a good heart and I think Tucker really showed that. Christine Ebersole was on fire as the mother, she was hilarious. The character was just so inappropriate most of the time, including a scene where she watches an adult film that she starred in, right in front of her son. As disturbing as that is, she just plays it so naturally and comedic, perfect timing. Ebersole and Tucker played off each other so well, they really worked. Michael Fairman was pretty good as the Warden, the scene in which he is trying to give Heck a job is so well done, he was quite entertaining.
Ginnifer Goodwin was also good as Dori, the character was Dori I didn’t think was fleshed out enough, but Goodwin kept her interesting. She had the right look for the character and I think she pulled it off. Jeremy Renner was fantastic, and with Ebersole was the stand out here. Chick is one crazy man, and not a very nice one either. I loved how well Renner and Tucker played off each other as rival brothers. Chick acts as if he has done nothing wrong, and blames his crimes on his brother. Renner clearly had a lot of fun with this character, and I just loved the scene where he sings American Pie. He continues to impress me, and I really would love to see those two in a film together again.
There were some aspects of the film that didn’t quite work, some of the comedy did fall flat. But for the most part I thought it worked quite well, and I really enjoyed the quirkiness of this film. I never thought I would watch and enjoy a black comedy about a prison romance, but there you go I did on both counts. I thought it was a great showing from these actors, and for the most part a well written and directed film by Kyle Bergersen. The film certainly brought up some interesting themes, to do with the actual role of the executioner. It does get a bit lost in the shuffle though, and I would have liked to have seen that aspect explored more. Worth checking out, however I can’t imagine this would be for everyone.