The World Made Straight, the feature debut from director David Burris, is made with such a sense of sincerity and care that it’s a shame that it’s not nearly as involving as its set-up indicates.
Based on the novel by Ron Rash, and set in late ‘60s Appalachia where the American Dream has gone to die, it chronicles the social and cultural awakening of Travis (Jeremy Irvine), a young man whose life is boxed in by low expectations and even lower goals. After getting fired from his grocery-store job for giving away food to a man who couldn’t afford to pay and then hectored by his ne’er-do-well dad for his supposed laziness, he just wants to hang out getting high with his friends.
But then he meets Leonard (Noah Wyle, Falling Skies), the disgraced high school teacher turned pot dealer who sparks in Travis an interest in the region’s history and his family’s geneology. (The film opens with a Civil War-era massacre involving some of Travis’ ancestors.)
Leonard has his own issues, namely a haunted past with a wife and kids, and a drug-using girlfriend Dena (Minka Kelly, TV’s Almost Human) who runs afoul of the area’s most disreputable and dangerous dealer, Carlton (Steve Earle). It falls on Travis to try to protect his new “family.”
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The performances are uniformly strong -- the British Irvine gives no indication of a past in films such as The Railway Man, War Horse, and Great Expectations -- and Earle is particularly memorable. The film glows with a dark energy when he’s on screen.
But it’s too long (nearly two hours), has a musical soundtrack that’s often intrusive, and sometimes sags when it should be taut with tension. It’s not as gripping as Winter’s Bone, to which it bears some thematic similarities. Still, Burris has crafted himself a nice calling card.
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The World Made Straight
Director: David Burris
Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Minka Kelly, Noah Wyle
Rated: R (strong language including sexual references, drug content, violence)
Running time: 119 min.