Last Harbor, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/29/10 03:34:29

"Sheriff wanted."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

SCREENED AT THE 2010 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: I suspect that "The Last Harbor" will eventually show up on a cable channel rather than in theaters, and might be cheap and successful enough to get a follow-up or two. Mystery series have been built on less than "former big-city cop solves crimes in picturesque harbor town", but it works best with a more interesting sleuth than Ian Martin.

Ian (Wade Williams) is a drunk, and his latest outburst of behavior that gets stuff thrown out of court has him about to be drummed out of the Boston P.D. His captain offers him an alternative: The sheriff in his old hometown is looking for a promotion to a state job - why doesn't Ian transfer over there and while away the years until retirement in a two-person department in a town where nothing happens? It'll give him a chance to reconnect with his daughter Leanne (Austin Highsmith). One thing has crossed the desk, though - a girl who hasn't been seen in a couple of days. Ian starts digging and finds more than he bargained for.

As mystery stories go, The Last Harbor actually isn't bad at all. There's a full set of suspects who are all believably up to something, red herrings that don't feel like a complete waste of time when they're revealed, and motives that don't seem outlandish when finally revealed. Director Paul Epstein and co-writer Rand Marsh more or less plays fair with the audience, both in terms of not holding back clues that only the sleuth gets to see or having him do stuff behind our backs. With the right lead, this is a satisfyingly competent murder mystery.

Unfortunately, our sleuth is Ian Martin, and he's just not very interesting. Marsh and Epstein haven't done much to flesh him out besides saying he's an alcoholic with the middle-aged alcoholic's usual sad personal history, and though that's not an easy cross to bear, it's not, itself, interesting. It's tough to get a bead on who he is besides a drunk, whether from the script or Wade Williams's performance. Williams is an actor built to play middle-aged cops that like to throw their authority around, but that's a tough role to build into a lead, even for a guy with more range than Williams. Watching him try to stretch into a remorseful father isn't a pretty sight; he seems lost beyond the awkwardness called for, to the point where it's almost a relief when he has to go on the warpath He's not great at that, but at least he doesn't look lost.

The rest of the cast doesn't look quite so lost in their roles, but few manage to stand out. Austin Highsmith plays Leanne as blandly disappointed and quietly impatient with her father, more annoyed with this guy who has moved in with her than connected and conflicted. Brendan Bradley is an amusing enough sidekick as Ian's deputy, although much of the amusement comes from how thick he lays the New England accent on, considering nobody else is bothering. Ryan Caltagirone and Samaire Armstrong are capable enough as the bartender at the hotel where Leanne works and an heiress (respectively), while Ryan Sypek and Tracey Needham are actually fairly good as one of the initial suspects and his mother.

There's often not a whole lot they can do. Epstein does all right in establishing the small town on Massachusetts's North Shore as an interesting setting - aided by some pretty photography - and handles the mechanics of the murder mystery well enough, and is all right at scenes where tension is called for, but the characters are generally flat. The scenes dealing with Ian's alcoholism play flat, like the writer hitting talking points, and a brief attempt at friendly banter between Ian and Leanne seems unintentionally bizarre and uncomfortable.

"The Last Harbor" isn't truly terrible; this sort of murder mystery can get by on storytelling competence in a pinch, and the plot doesn't contain any howlers. The mysteries that grow on an audience have an interesting sleuth, and that's unfortunately the area where this movie falls well short.

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