Fantastic Fest XVIII Review: Francis Galuppi’s THE LAST STOP IN YUMA COUNTY Steals With A Crackling Crime Debut
XYZ Films released the clip above exclusively to Variety on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s Fantastic Fest premiere of Francis Galluppi’s debut movie, The Last Stop In Yuma County. The clip above is a perfect summation of what to expect from the film’s suspenseful tone amid its propulsive and seething development leading up to the big finale. The ending is certainly a stunner, but it’s worth a recap for a better analysis in this review, starting with close-up shots of a devastating wreck mid-credits as the film eases into its dated, desert-set Southwestern atmosphere.
It’s a hot day in Yuma County in Arizona, and a bank robbery is all the hullabaloo that anyone can think about as a green pinto approaches a gas station with a nearby hotel and the adjacent diner famous for its distinguished pie. A clean-cut and affable-looking knife salesman (Jim Cummings) decides to venture to the diner to wait the station’s scheduled oil delivery so he can refill and keep moving. While there, he hits it off with diner waitress Charlotte (Jocelin Donahue) as the minutes pass and other motorists find themselves pulling into the gas station with the same results.
Enter Travis (Nicholas Logan) and older brother Beau (Richard Brake), the latter seething with suspicion at their surroundings as it slowly but surely becomes clear in the movie and the scene throughout just where things stand. As seen in the clip above, things reach a preliminary boiling point of sorts, and Beau takes matters into his own hands, setting the terms to secure passage for him and the slightly more wily Travis. The plot intensifies as more stragglers make their way into the diner, including an elderly couple, and two young criminals in a romantic escapade as Beau and Travis try to mind the timing and activity between the gas station’s operator, Vernon (Faizon Love), and the awkward icebreakings of the more sociable sherriff’s deputy, Gavin (Connor Paolo) in the midst of a coffee run.
Sabotage and accidential happenstance are par for the course as Charlotte and the aforementioned knife salesman are the only two people fully aware of just how unstable things are bound to get in their unfortunate predicament. Making matters worse, on top of the dismissive and unknowing goings-on with local sheriff Charlie (Michael Abbott Jr.), is the inveitable topical matter of greed that pervades much of the violent recapitulation that ensues well into the second half of Galuppi’s The Last Stop In Yuma County that makes this feature debut all the more propulsive and enticing.
Everything that could go wrong just about does in this punishing, brutal and poetic desert noir about how crime doesn’t pay, topped off with at least one interesting aside to the current string of events: A crossword puzzle in the day’s newspaper wherein one character can be heard pondering the following:
“What’s a four-letter word for ‘take the money and run’?…”
Cummings and Donahue lead a solid roster of cast performances that fully amplify the grade and volume to the kind of film Galluppi aspired to make here. Delivering a bevy of character constructions that leave you guessing amidst the concurring fluctuations of events about their motivations going forward, you’re almost never really sure where things will go until the other shoe drops. One scene that comes to mind is when one of the key characters mentioned above holds an innocent couple at gunpoint in an act of desperation. The moment leads to complete disaster despite all presumed hopes for the better.
There’s at least one interesting aspect about this film that makes it feel more like an allegory on innocence, and its much ado with some of the film’s smaller co-stars. The messaging is pretty simplistic and makes for a fascinating element to consider when thinking about how a director aims to craft a first-time feature. Invariably though, it’s the performances that do the trick, creating a story that unwavers when the consequences arise for those who do evil.
Dark, searing and unforgiving, Galuppi’s The Last Stop In Yuma County is an unflinching crime pic that pays in full what it promises. The movie paces itself with strong affirmations and drama, and finishes on an elegiac bang that resonates brilliantly, defining Galuppi as a filmmaker to keep an eye on for more in the years to come.
Screened for Fantastic Fest.
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