Willingly suspend your disbelief, pay close attention for all 120 minutes, and you will likely be mesmerized by "Road to Nowhere," a fascinating if occasionally infuriating movie within a movie about movies from acclaimed indie director Monte Hellman.
Hellman's first feature film in two decades was written by Steven Gaydos, executive editor of Variety, and is rich with funny observations about the movie industry with nods to "The Seventh Seal," "The Lady Eve," "Casablanca" and more.
There's a clue to the nontraditional structure of the film when the normal brief synopsis takes more than 100 words.
Tygh Runyan plays young American director Mitch Haven, who is making a movie about a "true crime" involving a crooked North Carolina politician named Rafe Taschen, a much younger woman named Velma Duran, a suicide pact, a police officer, a plane crash. There's also a murky Cuban connection.
The film opens with Haven sliding a DVD scribbled "Road to Nowhere" into a laptop, the laptop image slowly expanding to fill the movie screen. So from the start, it seems we are watching the movie he made, although the movie constantly teases us, scenes flipping back and forth between the "reality" of making a movie and scenes from the film itself, in no particular order.
Lovely Shannyn Sossamon plays Laurel Graham, the unknown actress who is hired to play Velma Duran and bears a startling resemblance to Duran. (Maybe she really is Duran.) During the filming, Haven becomes dangerously obsessed with her.
They spend evenings in their hotel room watching old movies. Graham asks Haven at one point: "How many movies have you seen?" The response: "You should never ask a filmmaker that. We don't want to admit how much time we spend obsessing over other people's dreams."
Cliff de Young plays actor Cary Stewart, starring in the crooked politician role of Rafe Taschen in Haven's "Road to Nowhere" movie. Dominique Swain is Nathalie Post, a North Carolina blogger who is an expert on the Duran-Taschen affair. Waylon Payne is Bruno Brotherton, a tattooed, hard-drinking insurance investigator.
The polished production features top-flight acting, a cool soundtrack by Tom Russell and gorgeous photography by Josep Civit, in beautiful locales -- the mountains of North Carolina, Verona and Rome.
In an interview provided with the press kit, Hellman says: "I'm happy if the viewer, with or without popcorn, is disturbed We do everything but throw rocks at the viewer in an attempt to convince him or her that it's only a movie. And within seconds they become totally involved again."
And that's true. By the end credits, if you find yourself scratching your head in bewilderment, "Road to Nowhere" is worth watching again. The filmmaker's art, and his beautifully crafted puzzle, can be better appreciated the second time around.
"Road to Nowhere" is playing at the Screening Room Cinema Cafe.
ROAD TO NOWHERE
3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Cliff De Young, Shannyn Sossamon, Waylon Payne, Tygh Runyan
DIRECTOR: Monte Hellman
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
RATING: R for some language and brief violence.
THE LOWDOWN: A filmmaker sets out to make a movie based on a true crime and blurs the line between truth and reality.