Whiskey Sour, by Williamson Balliet
While shimmers of clever writing and even directorial flourishes certainly exist in The Frontier, it nonetheless tends to falter due to its repetitious editing and occasionally clichéd dialogue. The story delves into the rocky relationship between Tennessee (Coleman Kelly) and his aging father Sean (Max Gail), who is aided in the writing of a book by Nina (Anastassia Sendyk), the agent of their eventual bonding. I use the word “eventual” rather loosely, as it occurs pretty quickly and we are left to wait for obvious the third act climax. But where The Frontier truly excels is as an advertisement for whiskey, the catalyst for every positive outcome within the story.
After verbally jousting for a couple of scenes, the father and son are sat down by Nina with a bottle of non-descript, amber-hued spirit so that they may hammer out their problems. Within that evening, every one of their lingering problems with one another are wiped away completely. On yet another night, Tennessee and Nina form a romantic relationship aided once again by a few slugs of 80 proof connectivity solution. Early in the film it seems as though Sean may have a drinking problem, belting away as he waxes professorial to his tape recorder on topics of technology and the human spirit before falling asleep on his couch. Apparently this is not a concern, as the drinking continues and is roundly encouraged by Tennessee and Nina. It is interestingly an entirely pro-booze movie.
Now, The Frontier was made on a tiny, Kickstarter budget of around $50,000 and as such I don’t wish to sound-overly critical. It’s certainly not a bad-looking movie, containing occasionally unsteady camera work that momentarily alienates but, for the most part, the film is well shot. However, it does rely too heavily on montages, to the detriment of its emotional complexity, and features one elongated sequence of father-son bonding over a game of Wii Tennis that I found particularly distasteful. That said, the leads handled their roles expertly. Max Gail was particularly forceful and managed emotional depth with extreme grace. He is intensely likeable and the character’s passions for literature and teaching come off as inherent elements of his being. The problems he faces with his son are neither hyperbolic nor petty, but the discussion thereof is occasionally stilted by unnatural dialogue, though delivered by natural characters. The journey of Tennessee throughout the film is satisfying in its circularity, but the footprints of the writers are just too apparent.
Towing the line of ambivalence, I would nonetheless be interested in the future works of the filmmakers and even more interested in that of the three leads. This is the first credit for both Kelly and Sendyk that I could find and quite the accomplishments for debut performances. Gail is primarily known for his role in the series Barney Miller but it occasionally takes a performance such as this to remind the viewer that a veteran actor is more than capable of dominating a dramatic role. So while The Frontier displays some immaturity in its production, it will hopefully serve as a stepping-stone for its major players.