Sometimes a movie captures a lot in a bottle and feels very much of the moment. Galveston is one of those films. Not only does this powerfully effective dramatic thriller hail from Melanie Laurent, a French female writer and director who lends her own perspective on a very American trope that feels like it normally would have been told by a white man, but it also gives two terrific performers a chance to shine, in what could be a movie to keep an eye out for later this year, when awards season buzz starts. This is a truly affecting, gritty and formidable drama that will leave its mark.
Galveston started out life as a Nic Pizzolatto novel and has been brought to the big screen by Melanie Laurent. I can't speak to the novel, but this movie is a truly impressive piece of work. The story centers on a man named Roy (Ben Foster), who has recently been diagnosed with a lung disease. After surviving a setup by his criminal boss, the hitman rescues a young prostitute by the name of Rocky (Elle Fanning) and the pair make their way from New Orleans to Galveston, Texas. Along the way, they pick up Rocky's three-year-old sister through a precarious and complicated set of circumstances, which leads to a journey around some seedy motels, dive bars and the sorted types who go along with such places as they try to leave the past behind and get on with their lives. Or in Roy's case, what's left of his life.
Movie fans may recognize Melanie Laurent as an actress, from her work in Inglorious Basterds and Now You See Me. But here, she asserts herself as a formidable director that has an incredibly promising new chapter of her career to explore. She opted out of starring in the movie, which is probably for the best. It allowed her to focus on bringing this thing to life behind the camera and boy, does she bring a lot of life to it. Galveston starts out with a brick on the gas pedal, bearing the bones of an action thriller in the vein of Drive. It then evolves into something much more deep and emotional, providing a broad look at the less fortunate in this country, in addition to a host of fascinatingly flawed characters who are trying to do the right thing. It's a gritty, dirty movie that doesn't hide the ugliness that can exist in the world, but does its best to show the beauty that can also exist in the worst of places and situations.
The complicated elements of Galveston, all of the mysterious elements of the thriller that's going on in the background would have been easy to get tied up in. Instead, Laurent decides to focus on the humans in the story, using this dreadful scenario to reveal them to the audience. With that, the performers in this movie are the real reason this is something you're going to need to put on your radar.
Ben Foster is a man who has been turning in terrific and compelling performances for years now, but he's never seemed to make that leap to the next level, despite having all of the talent in the world and starring in movies like Hell or High Water. However, Galveston may well change that, assuming this movie gets the type of release it deserves. This is a performance that in a very good year for movies could be deserving of a Best Actor Academy Award nomination and, depending on the competition in that given year, could be worthy of a win. Foster gives a career-best performance in a career littered with great performances here. Roy is a terrible person, but a man trying to do one good thing with his life when having to face down the possibility of no longer being alive. Foster's transformation on screen is something to behold.
Then there's Elle Fanning. She's an actress that's literally grown up before our eyes, having starred in J.J. Abrams' Super 8 when she was just a kid, and she's been getting better with every outing. She has a very tough role to play as Rocky. Not only because it's a role that is very exposing in many ways, but the layers required to make the character work run deep and Fanning nails it. Again, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we hear her name in the awards season mix. Even if not, this is further proof that she's going to be a genuinely exciting performer to watch for many years to come.
There's been a call for diversity and change in Hollywood as of late. One way to make that happen more frequently is to have diverse filmmakers make very good movies. That's exactly what's been done with Galveston. This is a beautiful, entertaining and potent movie that makes a strong case for diversity in filmmaking by virtue of its excellence. Galveston is the real deal and is something well worth talking about after making its debut at SXSW from Low Spark Films. This is definitely one to keep on your radar.