Triple murder drives suspense in Dagg’s Alaskan thriller

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Sweet Virginia
RPL Film Theatre
Feb. 1-4


One of the joys of cine noir is that it works in any setting. In fact, the location adds flavour to whatever hardboiled mystery is taking place.

In the case of Jamie M. Dagg’s Sweet Virginia, the action takes place in a sleepy Alaskan town (actually, Hope, BC). The tight-knit community is shaken to the core by the killing of three men at their weekly poker game.

Oblivious to the circumstances surrounding the crime, mild-mannered motel owner Sam (Jon Bernthal) befriends a drifter from his home state of Virginia (Christopher Abbott, Girls), who happens to be the hired gun responsible for the murders. As payment for his “services” becomes overdue, the assassin grows unhinged, and it’s only a matter of time before the newfound friends end up at opposite sides of a gun battle.

Sweet Virginia doesn’t unfold as expected. It dedicates a lot of time to build up the two main characters. Not until very late in the game does Sam become involved in the plot mechanics. The move pays off. By the time the two face-off, the audience is invested in their fate.

Better known for his tough guy roles in The Walking Dead and The Punisher, Jon Bernthal is a revelation as the over-the-hill rodeo champ who is two steps behind everyone else. The rest of the cast (Rosemary DeWitt, Imogen Poots) are equally enjoyable, including two newcomers poised to break out: Odessa Young (The Daughter) and Canadian Jared Abrahamson (Hello Destroyer).

The third act plot contrivances are a bridge too far, but as pulpy fun goes, you could do a lot worse than Sweet Virginia.