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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 21.74%
Average: 34.78%
Pretty Bad: 4.35%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 17 user ratings

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by Chris Parry

"Billy Bob Thornton’s annual Sundance tale of redemption."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: It happens every year, it seems. Billy Bob Thornton heads back to his southern roots and appears in a slow, deliberate tale of one man seeking redemption for his sins. Last year’s Billy Bob redemption show was the underrated Levity, featuring Morgan Freeman and Holly Hunter. This time around, the Thornton Traveling Depression Circus stops in Arkansas as the mullet-wearer’s icon portrays a bubba fresh out of prison trying to make things up to his wife after a lifetime of pain. See, two decades ago, a younger version of Billy Bob’s character ran his car off the road during a police chase, breaking the missus’ neck and killing his young son in the process. Suffice to say, there are no happy song and dance numbers herein.

Chrystal (Lisa Blount) isn’t exactly loving life. When she’s not giving local teenagers gangbangs in the back of cars in return for groceries, she’s gazing into the distance, unable to turn her neck because of ‘the incident’ way back when. With no money, no child, an absent husband who has spent the last twenty years dodging shower assaults, and a mother (who couldn’t be more nosey, Chrystal’s life has become one long absent stare.

Joe (Thornton) hasn’t had things much better. The prison time would have been punishment enough, but with the awareness of what he did to his wife and child weighing heavily on his shoulders, Joe returns to his home not really knowing what he can do, if anything, to make things right. He tries to clean up and fly straight, but that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. He ties to talk to his wife, but she’s been ‘Crazy Chrystal’ for far too long to engage in deep and meaningful conversations about dead children. So they um and ah and do the best they can, while Joe’s trashy childhood buddies try to drag him back down into the muck.

Chrystal is a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s a beautiful tale of a man who has done wrong and can never make up for it, no matter how badly he wants to try. On the other, it’s an exploration of white trash culture that leans far too close to the comical to take seriously. Thornton generally does the stoic thing rather well, and this performance is no exception to the rule he has established over the past handful of years. Lisa Blount comes fairly out of nowhere to handle the female lead role superbly, despite the fact that it was written with more feeling than dialogue. You always have to be suspicious when a non A-list name appears in the lead role of a film she’s producing, but Blount earns her applause well enough to acknowledge her casting decision as a good one. Next to a veteran performer such as Billy Bob, and with others like Harry Dean Stanton looming large in the background.

Blount’s dual appearance as producer and lead is not alone, as writer/director/producer Ray McKinnon also appears in a major role and Walt Goggins comes in as co-star and producer. You’ve got to respect a team of character actors getting together and putting out a genuinely decent ‘actors’ films, but the one thing the film is missing is a director that can pull it all together.

Ray McKinnon certainly doesn’t shame himself on the level of, say, a Bret Ratner or Nancy Meyers, but this is an ambitious project that even the surest of directorial hands would have struggled to perfect. Something’s just not altogether there in Chrystal – something that steps in when the moment should be poignant and makes it feel forced, or even comical. Perhaps it’s the distinct lines between good and evil that seem to put just about everybody but Joe, Chrystal and the local cop on the bad side of the fence. An ending that reeks of 90’s indie film doesn’t help matters much, especially as a scene that could have capably ended the movie in the right way turns out to happen a good fifteen minutes before the credits roll.

Ultimately, with a great American folk score and some fine camerawork, Chrystal is a harbinger of good things, but it’s not quite ready for the big show. If the as well-performed, better directed big name starrer Levity is only worthy of a few hundred screens in its wide screen release, you’d have to think that Chrystal is headed for similar territory. Keep an eye out for it on video, where it’ll definitely be worth the money you’ll pay to see it.

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originally posted: 01/19/04 08:04:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/15/06 davey crewcut Kinda disappointed. Great casting. Bizarre directing. BBT loses a fight he was winning? Why 3 stars
12/16/05 Danny Pretty darn amazing how such wonderful films are, to some extent, overlooked. Awsome. 5 stars
10/19/05 Lori Wonderful movie!!!!!! You'll laugh,scratch your head,laugh some more, cry. 5 stars
10/16/05 Emily, an AL/MS gal :) I felt like I had met some of these characters over the yrs. :) 4 stars
9/13/05 stephanie hoffman Sad, funny, haunting, so real a depiction of the south that it hurts 5 stars
9/12/05 Jim Cunningham Billy Bob to the core--no sappy redemption, just a lyrical tale of life 5 stars
9/02/05 philip chiore definitely worth a look 4 stars
4/26/05 Joan Philip Mostly authentic images of mountain people 4 stars
4/19/05 DK damn! loved it, a real film, not the usual soft-boiled hollwood crap. 5 stars
11/13/04 Morgan I'm sure the movie is awesome. I got the opportunity to be in the film playing a deputy. 5 stars
5/01/04 Robbie Bailey It was the best film I saw at Sundance! 5 stars
2/18/04 Jules i really want to see this movie but have no idea where its playing around my home? anyone y 3 stars
1/31/04 Lois Swaim FULL OF PATHOS AND HUMOR, I LOVED IT 5 stars
1/26/04 Shooter I agree with Miller, Kasch was awesome! 4 stars
1/23/04 Miller Max Kasch who plays Shorty was great! 4 stars
1/23/04 Lorraine Wilke This film was more than average...way more than average, are you kidding, Chris???!! 5 stars
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  08-Apr-2005 (R)
  DVD: 30-Aug-2005



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