Faith. Redemption. Revenge. Justice. Grace. Racism.
Few films pack as many ripe elements as “The Quarry” does, and many arrive in full long before the third act.
The great Shea Whigham gets a rare leading role as a fallen man who falls even harder as the story opens. What follows is smart, sober and not as compelling as the roiling themes portend.
Director Scott Teems scores endless points for handling the powder keg tale with restraint, but he’s missing a few vital shades that would make “The Quarry” as consequential as its premise.
Whigham stars as a man on the run, from what and where isn’t immediately clear. A Latino driver, who looks as distraught as Whigham’s nameless soul, spots him lying on the side of the road and offers his aid … with disastrous results.
The man assumes the Latino man’s identity and decamps for a Texas town expecting a priest to lead their flock. The outlaw’s plot lets him catch his breath and plot his next move.
His entrance into the mostly Latino town goes better than expected, but he still can’t shake his past. That grabs the attention of local law enforcement, personified by Police Chief Moore (Shannon).
Whigham holds plenty back as a man marked by mystery and grief. It’s a quiet, thoughtful turn, but an exasperating one as well. Who is this man? What is he running from? Could his heart be pure, or might his darkness make him unworthy of anyone’s forgiveness, except the Lord’s?
The faith sequences suggest some answers, but “The Quarry” isn’t eager to pursue those bread crumbs. Nor do we learn much from the man’s interactions with Chief Moore.
This cop is a good and decent man, but he’s someone who can’t see past his own prejudices. Teems and co-writer Andrew Brotzman suggest the tensions brimming between Chief Moore, who is white, and the heavily immigrant community. It’s handled with finesse and a sense of the characters in play.
No lectures here, just keen observation and empathy.
Moore isn’t a villain, nor is the man who ends up accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Bobby Soto is caught between his own misdeeds and family ties as Valentin, arguably the most engaging portrait in “The Quarry.”
The film brings all these elements together, and nothing about the resolution betrays the finely woven story preceding it. The haunting score, along with the dust-filled cinematography, add textures that gently push “The Quarry” to its resolution.
Audiences may not be as invested in what transpires as they expected, though. We need more, more glimpses into these characters’ lives, more context to grasp the stakes in play.
You can’t do much better than Whigham and Shannon inhabiting such coiled characters, but even they have their artistic limitations. “The Quarry” makes that painfully clear.
HiT or Miss: “The Quarry” gives two excellent actors roles worthy of their talents, but the story lacks the finer details to make their performances pop.