WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP (1999) director James Marsh's fiction feature debut is a slow-burning parable of faith, family and moral frailty cowritten by Milo Addica, who coscripted the excoriating MONSTER'S BALL (2001). Newly discharged from the navy, Elvis Sandow (Gael Garcia Bernal) makes his way to Corpus Christi, Texas, in hopes of meeting the father he knows only from his late mother Yolanda's recollections. Elvis clearly hopes for an emotionally rich reunion, but his dream is rudely dashed: In the intervening years, David Sandow (William Hurt), has found God, established a thriving Baptist ministry called Glad Tidings and has a real family: wife Twyla (Laura Harring), son Paul (Paul Dano), a Christian rocker about to go off to Bible college, and 16-year old daughter Malerie (Pell James). There's no room in the picture for a prodigal, the illegitimate, half-breed son of a Mexican prostitute. But Elvis has already found the chink in Pastor David's armor: Malerie, who's chafing under her father's rigid, ham-fisted rule. Blissfully unaware that Elvis is her half brother, she sneaks out with him for drives in his '69 Mercury Cougar and, later, furtive kisses and more. Elvis, meanwhile, settles into a seedy motel room, gets a job delivering pizza and bides his time until Paul catches wind of his sister's indiscretions. When Paul confronts Elvis, he responds to the fortunate son's righteous threats with sudden, murderous fury. He sinks Paul's body in a pond, never imagining what will happen next: Pastor David, down one son, reaches out to the other and invites Elvis to come live with him in his family's gracious suburban home though still without revealing the truth of their relationship. That no good can come of this tangled situation is evident from the film's first scene, when Elvis packs his Navy-issue rifle into his duffel bag and hits the dusty road to inevitable disappointment. Were there more meat on the bones of this fable about hypocrisy and spiritual hollowness, Marsh's pacing might seem deliberate rather then merely slow the film's final scene should have a nasty sting, but Marsh takes so long getting there that it comes as more of a relief than a shock.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: R
- Review: WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP (1999) director James Marsh's fiction feature debut is a slow-burning parable of faith, family and moral frailty cowritten by Milo Addica, who coscripted the excoriating MONSTER'S BALL (2001). Newly discharged from the navy, Elvis Sand… (more)