Kimberly Levin’s Runoff deals with an old-as-time moral quandary — how far will you go to protect your family? — but the movie achieves an understated resonance through Levin’s emotionally sensitive compositions and her clued-in portrayal of life in a middle-American farming community.
The Freemans, the family at the heart of Runoff, are a loving group, but Levin’s story finds them at a crossroads: Their farm-supply business is being pushed out by a large corporate competitor that is not only swiping their clients, but making a serious bid for their farmland.
Compounding this financial turmoil is the emotional plight of Finley (Alex Shaffer, the wrestler from Win Win), who despises small-town life and aspires to attend an art institute in New York. (He spends his free time making sketches and smoking weed on the roof.) Finley’s father, Frank (Neal Huff), scorns his son’s artistic inclinations — “It’s good, but it’s not real,” he says of one of his drawings — but hardworking mom Betty (Joanne Kelly) is supportive to the point of desperation. Determined to keep the business afloat and send her son off to school, Betty accepts a dangerous, off-the-books job from Scratch (the strong character actor Tom Bower), a local tainted by Big Business.
There are plenty of subplots — Frank’s secretive hospital visits, suspicious shots of a crop-duster — but the focus is the familial disorder and Betty’s moral sacrifice. Levin and DP Hermes Marco, shooting on location in Kentucky, use all sorts of barriers — kitchen walls, truck doors, front-porch columns — to demonstrate the claustrophobic anxiety pressing in on Betty. As Levin reaches her concluding image (a near-minute-long shot of Betty behind the wheel), Kelly’s blank-slate expression proves harrowing.
Directed by Kimberly Levin
Opens June 26, Village East Cinema
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