Something beautiful about storytelling is the fact that it can take any shape or form. There are no bad ideas, only bad execution. This means that you can take one idea that has been bulletproof and then turn it on its head. The idea itself will appeal to the audience, but only if the idea is well executed, then will they talk about it once the credits roll. It isn’t easy; creating stories, good stories, might be one of the hardest things to do. Everyone has a different taste, but those that try should be applauded. Double Down South tries, and it is successful in some parts. Let’s review it.
Double Down South is a movie written and directed by Tom Schulman and stars Lili Simmons, Kim Coates, Tom Bower, Rebecca Lines, and Igby Rigney. The film tells the story of Diana, a lone drifter who ends up in a dirty but always populated pool parlor. There, he will meet Nick, the owner, who offers her to be the “attraction” of the place. Diana accepts, and little by little she gets deeper into the world of Keno, a variation of the pool, as she tries to win enough money to help a mysterious individual.
Double Down South is a western through and through. The story has all the elements that make that kind of story something compelling. We have a mysterious drifter with a mysterious past and an even more mysterious objective. The main character arrives in a town where we meet a collection of quirky characters, and we see how their lives are affected by the drifter’s intentions. It is a setup as old as time, yet it still works. Double Down South changes things a bit, we get a girl instead of a mysterious man, and it shoots pool balls instead of bullets.
Double Down South isn’t particularly exciting; the film is a slow burn, and the dialogue permeates every inch of the movie. It seems like the characters are afraid of not talking, and they need to express their feelings and thoughts with absolute verbosity. It makes the movie longer than it should be when we need to learn about every little decision and feeling these people are experiencing. Double Down South could have easily lasted for only 90 minutes, and it would be better for it.
Brevity is the soul of wit; sadly, Double Down South doesn’t want to be brief. This issue, along with the pacing and verbosity of its dialogue, might be the film’s greatest weaknesses. Yet, the movie works thanks to excellent performances by Lili Simmons and Kim Coates. Both actors establish an intense face-off from the moment they meet, and it is that tension between them, the thing that propels the movie to its conclusion. It could have been shorter and more intense. Of course, but maybe Schulman is trying to create some atmosphere here and believes he needs time to do it.
The movie tries to create tension when it comes to the Keno encounters; it tries to explain the game. The matches are intense and entertaining, but they lack some visual flair. Like in a game of poker, what matters are the players, but a bit more careful with how the game is presented on screen could have taken this movie to the next level. Unlike poker, where the balls are moving everywhere on the table and movement always means energy, the matches lack that energy.
In general, the movie’s visuals are pretty standard; nothing really stands out as a great shot or a fantastic visual sequence. It is true; not every movie needs it. Sometimes all you require are good characters, good dialogue, and a compelling enough story. Still, visuals will always propel those other elements to the next level, and people will remember them at least to an unconscious level. In its current form, the movie seems to be putting all of its eggs in one basket; the narrative and that one is equally flawed.
Simmons makes for a compelling protagonist. She is tough and resourceful, but can also be charming and kind. Female characters don’t need to be one thing or the other; they can be multiple things, just like real people are. She’s also pretty good at the game, so where her abilities come from becomes a compelling mystery.
Coates, on the other hand, makes for a very spiteful villain. The actor not only has the looks, but he also has the attitude to come across as someone that is very despicable. Sons of Anarchy used that same energy in the creation of Tig, but the results were different. Here, Coates’ character has no redeeming qualities, so there are many more excuses to hate him from when the movie starts until it ends. The actor is certainly good at this type of role.
Double Down South is a mixed bag. The movie’s premise and concept working around such a game as Keno seem unique, and it is. The actors are also doing a great job, but the movie is thrown to the ground by a narrative that overstays its welcome and lacks any visual personality. In this day and age, even small movies need to pull their weight in the visual department. Double Down South makes for an entertaining watch, but only if you are in the mood for something relating to its subject.