February 21, 2007
Victor Nunez may not be the most prolific filmmaker – he’s made five feature films in 28 years – but the ones that do exist are intimate portraits of characters in transition, often leaving a bad situation in the hopes of starting a new life. His films are set in Florida (the state that he hails from) and his latest, Coastlines (2002), is no different. However, because it was independently financed, the film has taken five years to finally see the light of day on DVD but for fans of Nunez’s work, it has definitely been well worth the wait.
Sonny Mann (Olyphant) has just been released from prison. He returns to his hometown in the Florida Panhandle to live with his father (Wilson). He quickly reconnects with his best friend, Sheriff Dave Lockhart (Brolin) who warns Sonny about his former partners-in-crime, Eddie (Lucas) and Fred Vance (Forsythe), local businessmen who have gotten bigger thanks to a thriving drug trade. Sonny is torn between his friendship with Dave and the lure of Eddie and Fred’s schemes. To complicate matters, Sonny starts an affair with Dave’s wife, Ann (Wynter).
Right from the opening credits Nunez establishes the setting and the main characters of the film. He does a great job creating a sense of place, immersing us in the town and the people that inhabit it with the way he shoots everything and uses location and music. For example, he employs several evocative overhead long shots of the landscape that really go a long way in setting a particular mood and atmosphere. There is a consistency to the way he shoots his movies and Coastlines feels like it was shot in the 1990s along with his last two efforts, Ruby in Paradise (1993) and Ulee’s Gold (1997).
Nunez also has a knack for drawing very naturalistic performances out of his actors. These characters behave and speak like actual people and not like movie stereotypes. There’s an ease and natural flow to their conversations. It’s great to see actors like Timothy Olyphant, Josh Lucas and William Forsythe, who normally play larger than life characters in more mainstream fare, portray more realistically-written characters.
The characters in his films aren’t cardboard cut-out stereotypes. They are complex people with equally complicated relationships, just like real life. For example, after Sonny and Ann start seeing each other, tension arises between her and Dave as she feels guilty for cheating on him but is also frustrated by their routine life. Yet, she also has the responsibility of two children to look after and so she can’t just drop everything and runaway with Sonny. It is so refreshing to see characters in a movie plying their trade, be it Sonny working at a car body shop, Dave as a police officer or Ann at a doctor’s office. Too often, what a character does for a living is glossed over but Nunez (like fellow independent filmmaker John Sayles) occasionally reminds us that these people work for a living.
Timothy Olyphant is something of an underrated character actor who first came to my attention as a charming, yet threatening drug dealer in Go (1999) and more recently with his memorable role in the HBO T.V. series Deadwood. With Coastlines, he gets to inhabit a wonderfully, layered character – a man conflicted by his friendship with Dave, his love for Ann and his attempt to escape from his criminal past. Olyphant plays his cards close to his vest, not giving too much away and this makes Sonny something on an enigma which is the very thing that attracts Ann to him.
The nature of the story – a drama mixed with a crime thriller – lends itself to a potentially sensationalistic approach but Nunez treats every aspect of the movie (even the blowing up of a house) in a matter-of-fact manner. He also takes the time to incorporate the minutia of life into the film with little details, bits of business like showing the characters working at their respective jobs, to make them richer. This is true of his entire body of work because he is a humanistic filmmaker with a genuine empathy for his characters. He knows his universe and how to work within it. With the exception of the slightly pat ending that wraps things up a little too neatly; Nunez rarely makes a false step in Coastlines, delivering yet another satisfying movie for people who want a little something more substantial than what most Hollywood movies are willing to offer.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Victor Nunez. He points out that many of the crew members that worked on this movie have worked on all five of his films. He also talks about how he pays a lot of attention to detail and this includes the set design of the locations in the film. Nunez does a fine job articulating the themes in his movies and why he chooses to explore them while also touching upon aspects like casting and the technical details of making a movie.
Also included is one deleted scene with an optional commentary by Nunez. This scene actually appeared at the Sundance Film Festival screening but he ultimately cut it because it dragged out the film’s ending. However, he admits that he still likes this footage a lot – hence its inclusion on the DVD.