East of Middle West is dark drama at its most potent. It takes one devastating event and uses it as a knife-twisting blow, a game changer for our two main characters. Forgiveness, guilt, and tragedy weigh foggily over this sleek, atmospheric film from producer/director Brian Lucke Anderson. When Chris (an electrifying turn from Carson MacCormac) accidentally commits a double homicide during a tragic prank gone wrong, it profoundly changes his life. On the run from the cops, Chris is forced to take shelter with his domineering con artist uncle (Scott McCord). Meanwhile, the widowed father of Chris’s victims, Denny (Joris Jarsky), begins spiraling downward in a pool of alcohol and depression. Denny is forced to take a job at a local supermarket to keep a roof over his head. As each of their lives careen wildly out of control, can forgiveness ever be a reality?
I absolutely loved this film and its potent messages of powerful importance. Its ultimate stance on forgiveness brought tears to my eyes, in a powerful and unforgettable sequence acted masterfully by Carson MacCormac and Joris Jarsky. The film’s ensemble all add beautifully to the larger whole. Sophie Hoyt plays Chris’s spunky, but complicated, love interest, Amy, with a snarky playfulness. Amy might be “the only person who actually understands him.” Scott McCord’s Bill gives major unhinged lunatic energy, and every second of his performance is psychotically excellent. However, at the end of the day, Carson MacCormac and Joris Jarsky are the most vital pieces to the puzzle. Each performance is terrific and nuanced. Carson’s Chris is irrevocably changed after the horrible accident. He is not the same person in any way, and it really comes through emotionally in MacCormac’s work. Joris puts out an equally great turn, especially in the lows of Denny’s realistic plunge into depression.
The movie is pared down to the authentic dialogue from a script by Brian Lucke Anderson and Mokotsi Rukundo. Based on an idea from an actual news headline, you can feel the honesty brimming from every scene—from the hardware heist, to the lesson about “only steal from people who steal first,” to the budding romance, and to the shocking and intense accident that changes things forever. It’s a perfect meditation on forgiveness. The conclusion is so unforgettable that I know it’ll be stuck rattling around in my brain all year long.
East of Middle West screened at the Sarasota Film Festival, April 30th – May 8th, 2021.