Review by Sean Boelman
Co-written and directed by Scott Teems (Rectify), The Quarry is a starry new neo-Western based on the novel by Damon Galgut. Yet despite the fact that there is so much talent both in front of and behind the character, the film doesn’t quite work because it doesn’t fully explore its interesting ideas.
The film tells the story of a drifter who kills a traveling preacher and steals his identity, but when the parishioners of his small-town church take to his sermons, the sheriff begins to suspect something may be afoot. The setup is admittedly pretty common, but the promise of the movie lies not in the story itself, but what the story has to say.
Teems and co-writer Andrew Brotzman take this story and morph it into a case study of morality, commenting on the burden of guilt and how it affects people. There are some very interesting sequences in this regard, exploring the dynamic that forms between the two leads and blurring the lines between who is the hero and who is the villain.
However, once an additional subplot is thrown in, it prevents the film from having as much of an impact as it could. A storyline involving some immigrants who are accused of the drifter’s crimes seems intended to add more depth to the character’s emotional arc, but instead feels like an unnecessary aside to make the movie feel more topical.
This surface-level commentary on racism and xenophobia isn’t the reason why viewers will be watching this film, though. The true draw of the movie is its slow-burn pacing and mystery, but when there is no real mystery to be found in a plot that spells everything out for the audience early on, the film feels like an enormous waste of potential.
That isn’t to say there isn’t anything worthy of your time here. Shea Whigham and Michael Shannon both give wonderful performances in their roles, their turns being the main reason the audience will get invested in this game of cat-and-mouse. The former, mostly known for character work to this point, is particularly impressive with a nuanced and layered role.
The movie also looks great. It is evident that Teems has a very good eye and a passion for filmmaking, the visual style feeling like a mixture of old-school Western and gritty crime drama. The result is a movie that looks fittingly dreary and desolate, with many frames that are immersively gorgeous.
The Quarry doesn’t meet its full potential by any means, but as a moody and gritty neo-Western, it’s watchable. If nothing else, this serves as perfect proof that the world needs to see Shea Whigham in more leading roles.
The Quarry hits VOD on April 17.