Blood For Dust (2023) Film Review
As far as thrillers go, all the rules have already been written, adapted into movies, rewritten for modern generations, broken, smashed together in other genres, etc. This doesn’t bode well for films that are meant to stay inside the boundaries of the genre, and have no need to surprise audiences with absurd plots and narrative experimentation. Some films are meant to be simple. Such is the case of Rod Blackhurst‘s Blood for Dust, a small town thriller that’s directly inspired by the Coens universe, and tells a story that could easily take place in a more sober version of the iconic directors’ land of crime. Will Blood for Dust change you life? Absolutely not. It doesn’t need to. It’s just another iteration of the rotten dynamics of working-class America as it faces the riskier escape from everything that’s snowy, plain, boring and unsuccessful.
The film tells the story of Cliff, a traveling salesman who sells defibrillators for a living. He has a family that he’s almost ashamed to visit because he’s not very successful at his job. At least, he’s not making enough sales to give them what they deserve. Cliff’s past isn’t dark. It’s just filled with some sketchy characters that he wishes would fade away.
But after a huge problem with the company he works for, Cliff gets broken. His spirit is being stomped by the reality of his circumstance. While he’s drinking in a bar, he meets with an old friend. Ricky (Kit Harington in the best performance of his career to date) is shady, but knows Cliff enough to offer him a partnership in a gig. The job consists of smuggling stuff. When Cliff accepts, things don’t go well, and by the time bodies start dropping, he will wish he had stayed a boring salesman.
Scoot McNairy is the driving force behind Blood for Dust. Forget everything he’s done in the past, and even the secondary roles that made him a character actor that you can confidently add to a movie and he will comply. This is the best work of his career. As Cliff, he’s real, almost too honest, and completely volatile. He wakes up when he shouldn’t, and starts a life of false redemption that in the face of an actor like McNairy, looks quite obvious.
Blackhurst’s direction is linear. With no intentions but to complete a character study that we’ve seen before, but seldom in the world of independent cinema with enough gravitas to make some of these roles the best you’ve ever seen for the actors. Josh Lucas also shows up as a menacing mobster, and Stephen Dorff has a short role that we wish would have been more important. Ethan Suplee completes the cast in the unrecognizable body he has now, and plays a part that seems tailor-made for him. This is a film about crime being committed through conversations, and realizations being the only fuel that will drive Cliff to become a dark product of desperation.
Beautifully shot, Blood for Dust is one of those films that lingers for a while. The performances will stay in your mind. The face of Cliff finding the calm after the storm, even as a criminal, is poetic enough to make you nod at Blackhurst’s approach at making a crime drama that feels sad because there’s no other choice.
My only observation? The sound mixing could be improved.