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ARIZONA (2018) review

August 27, 2018

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written by: Luke Del Tredici
produced by: Dan Friedkin, Ryan Friedkin, Brandon James & Bradley Thomas
directed by: Jonathan Watson
rated: unrated
runtime: 85 min.
U.S. release date: August 24, 2018 (limited, VOD digital)

 

The worst position to be in for a homeowner is underwater.  I mean that figuratively, of course. Getting behind in your mortgage payments is the worst feeling. Despite doing everything you can to prevent such a dreadful and helpless position, you ultimately wind up feeling like a failure when it does and then desperation set in and turns into anger. The housing crisis comedy thriller, “Arizona”, looks at that dire position and the powder keg potential it has when someone with a short fuse gets lit by the building pressure. Longtime first assistant director Jonathan Watson makes his directorial debut here working off a screenplay by Luke Del Tridici, and winds up offering a nightmarish worst-case response to a market crash that took place almost a decade ago.

Set in the fictional town of Harding, Arizona in 2009, where a housing boom had produced a handful of once promising luxury home developments (all with interchangeable Spanish names ending in “Del Oro”), with fully-loaded amenities, like  salt water swimming pools, the kind that were peddled to wide-eyed buyers by smooth-talking real estate agents. As the movie opens we meet one such agent, Cassie (Rosemary DeWitt), who is showing a house to somewhat interested disgruntled married couple. Suddenly, there are screams heard that sends a high-heeled Cassie running into a nearby house to find a woman upstairs trying to lift up her semi-conscious husband off an empty bedroom ceiling fan. He falls to the floor with the ceiling fan falling on his face and as he comes to from his failed suicide attempt, he utters, “Just kill me”, through a bloody mouth of broken teeth.

 

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After that abrupt scene, the film’s title appears accompanied by some peppy music, offering a decidedly different tone than what came before it. Apparently, what we’ve seen so far is supposed to communicate a dark comedy, yet before the movie even started, we’re shown text info summarizing the 2009 subprime mortgage crisis – what happened and why and how it impacted home owners. How such dire financial situations will play out into comedy remains to be seen, but my skeptism and apprehensions were entering the back sliding door at this point.

It soon becomes clear that Cassie is having a hard time making ends meet. No surprise, considering the year and what has happened, but that puts her in quite a bind with her own mortgage. Not only is she struggling financially, she also has a contentious relationship with her teenage daughter, Morgan (Lolli Sorenson), to contend with, as well as being civil with her ex-husband, Scott (Luke Wilson), who now has a new significant other,  Kelsey (Elizabeth Gillies).

One morning, as she arrives late to work (after dropping her daughter off at school), Cassie is berated by her rude manager, Gus (Seth Rogen, in a brief cameo role) for the perceived hassle her work and personal life is causing him. On top of Gus berating her, Cassie gets a call from a wily creditor she’s been ignoring and it’s during this time that a client named Sonny (Danny McBride), walks in all hot and bothered, determined to get an answer out of Gus after feeling regarding the lousy deal he got on the home he was sold now that he’s underwater. Since Cassie is unable to hear the persistent caller on the other line, she moves to the abandoned office space next store, but while she’s standing there she can here an argument escalating into something physical and the next thing she knows, Cassie witnesses Gus taking a dive over the front balcony and winding up splayed out onto the front parking lot. She freezes. Gus sees her and in no Cassie finds herself duct taped to a chair in Sonny’s home, realizing she’s been taken hostage after witnessing a murder.

 

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Sonny is set on convincing Cassie (and maybe himself) that he’s not a bad person and that Gus was a horrible individual (something she can’t disagree with), but also that she’s no better than Gus for giving clients a raw deal. Still, he feels bad for tying her up and keeping her captive (besides the fact it’s apparent to them both that he doesn’t have a real plan) and offers a tour of his home, which he considers pretty extravagant with a gun arsenal that’s hidden in a wall that slides out. Both Sonny and Cassie soon realize that they’re in similar places in life, which unnerves Cassie and makes Sonny hopeful that he can get her on board with his naive plan to discard her manager’s body. But then Cassie is reminded what happens when Sonny loses his temper, when he accidentally kills his ex-wife (Kaitlin Olsen) after she unexpectedly drops in and whines him into an angry outburst.

Cassie figures out that it doesn’t take long for Sonny’s to respond with anger and when he realizes she has a daughter he leaves her tied up and drives off to retrieve her. It helps that Sonny isn’t the smartest knife in the drawer, something that gives Cassie and Morgan a chance to run away from the misogynist psychopath and the rest of the night turns into a wild and bloody game of cat-and-mouse that finds Scott and Kelsey showing up after he responds to an urgent call for help from Cassie.

 

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Ironically, Watson shot “Arizona” outside Albuquerque, New Mexico and Santa Clarita, California, which was shot in New Mexico), so you can chalk that up to the magic of movies. What makes the movie different from your typical dark comedy, is that there is no main character here, since the screenplay from Luke Del Tredici gives equal time to both Dewitt’s Cassie and McBride’s Sonny. Considering both of them have done varying degrees of bad things, although it’s clear who the ‘bad guy’ of the movie is since Cassie hasn’t killed anyone out of rage. I get that the focus of the movie is on abrupt comedy, peppered with bloody moments, but I would’ve appreciated a more serious approach to  the housing crisis, considering it’s not laughing matter. There still could’ve been some humor involved, but if the focus was more focused on the gravity of the repercussions of the market crash, I feel there would’ve been a more dire tone to the picture, something that’s needed in “Arizona”, especially during a third act that feels more like a live-action Looney Tunes vehicle.

That third act is where “Arizona” eventually lost me. While DeWitt is the highlight of the movie and a game participant in the macabre humor, she winds up running around for some reason in a bra and skirt as the movie concludes. It may be a welcome role for the always interesting DeWitt, playing against pretty much anything we’ve seen him before, but McBride is just playing McBride here. Oh, the volatile character suits him just fine, but I couldn’t help but wish for something more straight from the actor, rather than the constant absurdity and dim-witted arrogance we expect from him.

Sure, there are some laughs in Watson’s “Arizona”, which only run up to 80 minutes in length, and it certainly has a cinematic look to it, thanks to Drew Daniels (who also shot
“It Comes at Night”), who uses a surprisingly dynamic palette throughout the entire film, even as the story goes dark in both geography and tone. What Watson and Del Tedici don’t realize is that the best moments are in the interactions, yet sadly they’re interrupted by sudden bursts of violence – such is the case with the inclusion and demise of Sheriff Coburn (an all too brief David Alan Grier), the only sheriff in town. It’s a reminder that the movie could’ve benefitted from a study of unhinged characters on the fringe of society, left to fade away like the abandoned houses that surround them, but this movie just wants to vent, using outrageousness and violence for a way to channel anger and anxieties.

 

arizonablood

 

RATING: **

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