Concisely shot from a script by Brendan Higgins, Steel Country is atmospheric, uncomfortable and contains an underlying tinderbox tension throughout.
This Pennsylvania based murder mystery uses a muted colour palette, small town mentality and understated central performance from Andrew Scott to ask awkward questions. Concisely shot from a script by Brendan Higgins, Steel Country is atmospheric, uncomfortable and contains an underlying tinderbox tension throughout. Burdened by social anxiety, a chequered small town history and inherent naivety, Donald Devlin is the classic movie underdog. Caring for an ailing parent, trying to bond with his teenage daughter and looked down on by the community, Scott’s portrayal is measured and mostly free of emotional tics. Similar in feel to Catherine Hardwick’s Twilight there is an introverted secrecy to this town which only increases over time.
Relationships are defined in snippets of dialogue or subtle actions with long term ramifications, meaning audiences need to pay attention. In terms of filling in back story, exposing personal prejudice or providing narrative perspective, Higgins shows an economy in his storytelling which is commendable. As Steel Country begins to take shape over the ninety-minute running time, motives become increasingly sinister, people more suspicious while consequences gather on the horizon. This is a moral fable filled to the brim with selfish choices, human frailty and unspoken regret.
As a bastion of justice, Donald might not be the first choice but in comparison to those around him he is a saint. Scott immerses himself in this troubled soul showing an awareness beneath the affliction which is both heart breaking and grounded. That he continues asking questions rather than backing down, acquiescing or conceding defeat imbues him with a poignancy borne of innocence. His methods for uncovering the truth may be unorthodox but even at his most extreme Scott maintains the everyman quality which defines this character.
In opposition to Scott there is a fine array of character actors which add texture, create conflict and ensure that Steel Country is even-handed in its depiction of the question at hand. Both Michael Rose and Andrew Masset metaphorically represent heavy-handed harassment and flagrant self-interest whilst still retaining their humanity. Likewise Bronagh Waugh’s Donna gives perspective and softens the harsher motives which Donald pursues as this film progresses. However what remains most impressive are those final minutes which are cold blooded in their depiction of narrow minded intimidation and small town justice.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Simon Fellows
Written by: Brendan Higgins
Starring: Andrew Scott, Catherine Dyer, Denise Gough
Released: 2018 / Genre: Thriller
Country: UK / IMDB
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Steel Country aka A Dark Place is out now on DVD.