Year: 2006
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: Tracy Letts
Cast: Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Lynne Collins, Harry Connick Jr

I watched this film (or most of it, at least) based on the recommendation of a film critic I trust and usually agree with. When I think back to him mentioning it, he was using it as an example of something done better than the film he was actually talking about (so whatever that movie was must have been a shocker).

It starts off like something from a David Lynch film with very American archetypes as trailer trash Agnes (Swank) lives in a dingy motel in the desert trying to get on with her life and stay out of the way of her violent ex (Connick Jr). At the same time, the mysterious and slightly scary drifter Peter (Shannon) shows up, feeling drawn to her and eventually cracking her tough exterior and becoming her confidante, lover and only real friend.

As things turn strange, the movie both gets more interesting and loses its way. Peter's a soldier who's gone AWOL, claiming he's escaped from a facility where they've been testing biological weapons resistance on live human subjects and that he's still infected with them.

As they both gradually turn into tinfoil hat wearing loons, things get more and more paranoid, oddball and finally violent. In one scene Peter believes he's had a chip implanted in his teeth and rips a tooth out with pliers. When the people who are looking for him do show up (in the shape of an affable doctor who wants to help before Peter really hurts himself or Agnes), Peter doesn't bat an eyelid before telling Agnes the man is a robot dispatched by the army to bring them in and brutally stabbing him to death. By this time – keep in mind – everything in the room is covered in tin foil and fly paper.

My patience with it had been teetering, but by the time Peter was three minutes into a five minute conspiracy rant about everything in their lives (including Agnes' missing son) being connected and related to Peter's incarceration, I lost what patience I had. Not because I have a problem with ridiculous conspiracy theories, but because it had ground to a halt.

It's worth seeing because director William Friedkin is an important figure in cinema history, and I've heard it said this is like his very first films (and is based on a play). But while it had Lynchian themes of madness and of not knowing what's real and what's not that could have been great, it just got boring. Interesting that is featured Swank on the downhill slide of her career and Shannon on his ascent.

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