CS Review: Amazon Prime’s Blow the Man Down
In Blow the Man Down, two young sisters are in the act of fitting a corpse into a tiny cooler. One of them, Mary Beth (played by Morgan Saylor), starts panicking (as one does) during the grisly affair. The other, Priscilla (played by Sophie Lowe), calmly responds with an anecdote about coleslaw, “the whitest, goopiest shit ever,” she says, reminding her sibling that she eventually ate said shit after a boy called her a pussy. The speech works and eventually the girls manage to fit the body into the cooler using grit, sweat and a knife. Yuck.
So it goes with Blow the Man Down, a wry, Coen-esque thriller set in one of those depressing blue-tinted northeastern fishing towns — in this case Easter Cove, Maine — where the bitter weather seems to reflect everyone’s mood. The main story revolves around the aforementioned corpse, a sack of cash, and a brothel run by town kingpin Enid (Margo Martindale); a combination of elements that might have made for an routine potboiler in the vein of, say, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, but Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, who wrote and directed the film, are more interested in exploring the painful secrets lying just below the surface of this seemingly docile town.
Here is a film propelled by quiet scenes of intensity and heartache between characters who are both deplorable, yet likeable. Enid, in particular, as played by Martindale, is a fascinating woman in that she truly believes her brothel deserves a certain amount of respect the town’s denizens, led by a trio of women played by veteran actresses June Squibb, Annette O’Toole and Marceline Hugot, no longer seem willing to afford.
The trio, you see, want to transition Easter Cove into a respectable community consisting of pancake breakfasts and bake sales. Enid’s brothel, a necessity in a previous, darker era, when men would instinctively flock to the town like the salmon of Capistrano, sticks out like a sore thumb and has, as one of the trio puts it during a particularly unnerving meeting enclosed by pink walls and family photos, “run its course.”
Essentially, this is another mob flick. Except, instead of guns, knives and shady meetings in abandoned warehouses with the goal of attaining more power, these gals meet in salons and dining rooms to discuss how to make their town quainter while their husbands piss and moan over Tom Brady’s offensive line in the next room.
Imagine if Dolores Umbridge were running a crime syndicate. Yeah, kind of like that.
Dark deeds abound as mysteries unfold and the plot continues to thicken. Sly visual gags — that mermaid knocker, for example — counter the dreariness, but overall the tone remains decidedly dour which might turn off casual viewers expecting something more routine. Or, at the very least, featuring more of a soul.
That’s not to say the film lacks a beating heart, except the two characters we long to root for, namely Mary Beth and Priscilla, take a back seat to the film’s more intriguing elements. Their characters serve as catalysts to the story, but the film never slows down long enough to develop them as anything more than [trailer guy voice] atypical characters at the wrong place at the wrong time.
No. This is Martindale’s show. And the veteran actress delivers the goods and then some in a quietly ferocious performance that is both unsettling and strangely heartbreaking. I respect individuals with a definitive perspective on life, however misguided that perspective might be, and found Enid’s personal world view … admirable? If that’s the right word. In a sense, the town created Enid; and now, when it no longer needs her, wishes to cast her and the legacy she built out with the rest of the trash. And fish.
“You have no idea how good you have it,” she bemoans to a young girl. “You should be on your knees thanking me!”
My mom says that to me every day. Of course, she never owned a brothel, but you get the gist: younger generations never seem to appreciate the hard work and sacrifices the older folk went through to give them what they have today. Do we judge them for their bad deeds? Or thank them for giving us what we have? That’s a tricky slope to traverse, but one the film asks us to reflect upon.
Of course, I may have misread the whole thing. Maybe this is simply a film about entrepreneurs.
As a side, several film comparisons came to mind during my viewing. Namely, Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, which similarly wrapped a murder mystery around an adroit character study; Taylor Hackford’s Dolores Claiborne, which also dealt with themes of grief, loss and regret, albeit with a crazy-ass plot about a solar eclipse; and, oddly enough, Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, which featured a town full of ordinary folk willing to dirty their hands for the greater good — the great good.
So, there you have it. Blow the Man Down is a strange hybrid of Mystic River meets Dolores Claiborne meets Hot Fuzz and sprinkled with a dash Coen brothers for flavor. It doesn’t always jive, and the results are far from what one might consider a classic film noir, plus it’s bleak as Hell, but the performances are solid, the writing sublime, the cinematography rich — come for the murder, stay for the drah-ma.
At the very least it will make you rethink your stance on brothels.