RLJE Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Aharon Keshales
Writer: Aharon Keshales, Kai Mark, Navot Papushado
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Evangeline Lilly, Shea Whigman, Mike Colter, Michael Paré, Thaddeus J. Mixson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/29/21
Opens: October 8, 2021

“South of Heaven” could have been a B movie, perhaps on the level of TV’s NCIS, but under Aharon Keshales’s direction and with a script by the director and Kai Mark, Navot Papushado, the film has depth. The romance is credible, the tension is considerable, and after opening scenes featuring the kinds of thugs you’d find on network TV, the movie takes off. Israeli-born Aharon Keshales, now working on “Once Upon a Time in Palestine”which is set in British-ruled Palestine in 1946, blends romance with crime, including one knockout scene illustrating Stockholm Syndrome, with the two major villains coming up with the story’s best lines, as we’ve come to expect from the bad guys.

Jimmy (Jason Sudeikis), serving a 15-year-sentence in Texas for armed bank robbery (and he got 15 years on a plea bargain!), opens with a scene before the parole board, begging to be released three years before the end of his sentence. The reason sounds phony, but it’s a charming one which no decent parole board member could resist. His girlfriend Annie (Evangeline Lilly) has been waiting for him the entire time (male fantasies allowed) and now that she has just nine to twelve months to live with lung cancer acquired from her job as a beautician, he wants to give her “the best year of her life.”

He is on track to do just that, accepting a low-paying job offered to him by Mr. Schmidt (Shea Whigham), his tough parole officer who is virtually enticing him to commit more crimes by suggesting that he will nail him anyway. And nail him he does. Things are not what they seem, and soon Jimmy is forced to commit more malfeasance to avoid a return to the brig. This is Texas. Law officials are not this corrupt in my New York.

This hurdle is not the last one he has to jump. He has to reckon with Mr. Price (Mike Colter), who is sure that Jimmy has stolen half a million from him, thanks to a confession after the torture that Jimmy’s only male friend “Honest” Frank (Jeremy Bobb) had to endure on the orders of Mr. Price.

“South of Heaven” gives equal treatment to the long-delayed romance between Jimmy and Annie and the crime scenes, which involve two hit-and-run car accidents, several shoot-outs, a chase from Texas to Mexico, and hip banter from abducted Tommy (Thaddeus J. Mixson), who is Price’s wiseass son. There are two kidnappings, one of which involves the movie’s highlight, a chat between Annie and Price, kidnapped and abductor, who calmly compare notes on the tragedies faced by each of their families as though they are two friends at a party.

The top performance is from Mike Colter, unavoidable since the villain gets the best lines spoken softly, deliberately and ironically. Be prepared for serious involvement with Evangeline Lilly’s Annie, rooting for her diagnosis to be a false positive (like that of Queen Latifah’s Georgia Byrd in “Last Holiday). Anchoring the show, Jason Sudeikis turns in a three-dimensional performance as a victim of three villains (one of whom is not seen—the man who got him to rob a bank), as romantic partner, and as aan avenging angel.

120 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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