Review by Sean Boelman
It feels like the crime genre is filled with the efforts of first-time directors, and they start to blend together because they all share such similar influences. Shane Atkinson’s Fargo-esque crime Western LaRoy is consistently entertaining, even if it often lacks the substance it would have needed to become a standout in the genre.
The film follows a man who, with a plan to kill himself after discovering that his wife is having an affair, is mistaken for a contract killer, setting off an unlikely chain of events. The movie follows a crime-comedy formula we have seen dozens — if not hundreds — of times before, but Atkinson’s sharp script keeps things consistently enjoyable.
It would be hard to find another movie that is as purely nihilistic as this, but Atkinson writes the story with such a tongue-in-cheek humor that it never feels oppressively bleak. Behind all the failed suicide attempts, adultery, and torture is a wicked sense of dark humor that creates some very funny moments throughout.
If the film does struggle with one thing, it is deciding exactly what it wants to say. Unlike many crime movies, this is not really a tale of morality. Although many of the worst people get what they deserve, others who are deserving of scorn get away free, and more yet who are comparatively “innocent” are caught in the crossfire.
This nihilistic approach also extends to the film’s character development. Rather than giving us a hero to root for, Atkinson gives us a protagonist that we pity. Yes, the character makes plenty of mistakes and stupid decisions over the course of the runtime, but the movie successfully asks us to forgive reason in favor of understanding his desperation and devastation.
John Magaro truly is one of the most underrated actors working today, but thankfully his slew of films in 2023 seems to ensure that he will receive the recognition he deserves. His performance, while comedic in nature, is also filled with sadness, providing the movie with a level of emotional groundedness. In the supporting cast, Steve Zahn is hilarious as ever in his role as the bumbling sidekick and Dylan Baker brings an effectively intimidating presence to the equation.
From a stylistic standpoint, the film is exactly as one would expect from a neo-Western like this: plenty of aesthetically pleasing landscapes shot in a very formalistic manner, costume design that feels like it could have been pulled from a thrift store, and a soundtrack of country and Western music. Atkinson’s style might not be that unique, but it is certainly competent.
LaRoy is well-written and well-made enough that it will divert viewers for its nearly two-hour runtime, but it doesn’t invent the wheel by any means. The most notable thing about the movie is its cast — especially lead John Magaro, who is given a perfect showcase for his talents here.
LaRoy screens at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.