Review by Sean Boelman
With the second season of Ted Lasso having just come to an end, everyone is high on Jason Sudekis right now, and so the timing of South of Heaven is absolutely perfect. A fun, if straightforward thriller, this film rides on the strength of its central performances to have an emotional impact.
The movie follows a recently released ex-convict who, on early parole and hoping to spend time with his ailing childhood sweetheart, finds himself unintentionally drawn back into his life of crime. Everything about the film’s story is overwhelmingly familiar, but it works thanks to the unexpected empathy it has.
Clocking in right at two hours in length, the movie is perhaps a bit longer than it needs to be, but it never drags. In fact, the film can almost be cleanly divided into two halves: the first, a pretty predictable blue collar crime saga, and the second, a blend of revenge thriller and dark comedy. And yet, despite the script being so busy, it manages to work.
The themes in the movie about redemption are nothing new. The protagonist’s journey is to right his wrongs against the world by making things right for the woman he loves. It’s a sweet and heartwarming arc, albeit one that doesn’t offer much in the way of originality. The fact that the antagonist even has an arc is refreshing, although it still feels like an afterthought.
Sudekis, much like the roles he has gotten so much notoriety for in recent years, proves here that he is able to blend dramatic and comedic elements extremely well. However, even though his performance is great, the supporting cast is even better. Evangeline Lilly is surprisingly nuanced as the love interest, Shea Wigham is wonderfully exaggerated as the secondary antagonist, and Mike Colter is exceptional as the big baddie.
That is why it is disappointing that all of this great work is weighed down by a conventional crime story. A lazy MacGuffin of a lost bundle of money almost delegitimizes the genuine emotion around which the film is built. This is especially the case as the motivations in the second and third act become more generic.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is mostly solid. Aharon Keshales has created a competent neo-Western with some solid cinematography. There aren’t any images that are particularly striking or lingering, but the short bursts of violence in the film are very effective and shocking in the moment.
South of Heaven would be a forgettable B-movie thriller were it not for above average character development and some really strong performances. It’s the right combination of things coming together to deliver a satisfying watch.
South of Heaven is now in theaters and on VOD.