Alcohol makes you say incredibly stupid things, that is a fact that many of us have experienced personally. But what happens when the stupid thing you said is a proposition that involves murder and money? How would you handle the consequences of the words you stated? Detour, the latest film from Christopher Smith sets aim at exploring the various routes a person could take by making one decision. Unlike spouting something stupidly while inebriated, hopefully, most of us never go to the depths laid out by the characters in this film.
Harper (Tye Sheridan, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse) is a law student dealing with the tragedy of his mother being a coma. The reason for this, as Harper believes, is due mainly in part to his prevaricate stepfather, Vincent (Stephen Moyer, True Blood), who he believes is responsible not only for the car crash that put his mother in the hospital and left her comatose, but he feels that Vincent is up to even more devious actions involving the family’s financials. Drowning his concerns and speculation in alcohol, he stumbles into the world of Johnny (Emory Cohen, Brooklyn), a criminal and pimp, and mistakenly propositioned him to kill Vincent. Waking up the next morning and recovering from a hangover, Johnny, and his companion, Cherry (Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl), arrive at Harper’s house to deliver on their arrangement. Standing at a decisive crossroads, Harper will make a decision as both potential outcomes are seemingly played out.
The constant shifting between split views and alternate scenarios plays out more like an Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips crime comic than a traditional film. The structure of the narrative and its timeline is juggled in multiple directions but Smith manages to present each with a clear focus that allows the mystery to unravel at break-neck speeds. Tension ramps up and slows as moments converge and split apart in wild ways as the camera of cinematographer Christopher Ross (Eden Lake) casts suspicion on every character that graces its lens. This weaving of outcomes is quite deceptive as the viewer will come to learn, and it makes for one hell of a punch.
As fantastic as the film’s structure is, the best parts of Detour come from the tremendous performances that fill the screen. Sheridan plays a perfect companion to a criminal as a naive and educated young adult brought into the world with a silver spoon. His forethought and unpredictability keep the mystery going long after Smith tips his hand. Bel Powley is fantastic as the doe-eyed stripper that is far stronger than she originally is introduced as. At times, the film hinges on her innocence and ability to take charge of Emory Cohen’s criminal with a hidden heart. The characters themselves are not as well crafted as the film’s narrative, but they don’t need to be when you have this level of talent behind them.
Detour is a desert set neo-noir that twists and turns as trust shifts between the characters. The interplay of timelines and sandbox approach to structure is one hell of a blast to watch unfold, especially with Ross behind the lens. The premise may seem common enough, but the execution is purely Christopher Smith continuing his intelligent writing and structure in the vein of his 2009 film Triangle.