The Quarry is a slow burn crime drama that never reaches ignition. Good performances from a veteran lead cast can't rescue the sluggish pacing. Adapted from the South African novel by Damon Galgut, The Quarry's serious tone and stark delivery initially held my interest. The film then becomes progressively stale as the plot crawls to a resolve. There are also issues with the premise. The deception at the heart of the story doesn't hold up to scrutiny; especially with the religious and racial themes involved.
An unconscious man (Shea Whigham) is found lying on the side of a remote Texas road. His rescuer is David Martin (Bruno Bichir), a preacher traveling to a new post in a small border town. The man devours a meal bought by the preacher, but says nothing about himself or his situation. The preacher drives to a rock quarry to sober up before meeting his new flock. His prodding of the stranger leads to a bloody outcome.
The preacher arrives in town late at night. Celia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), the church steward, is stunned that her new preacher is neither Mexican nor fluent in Spanish. The mysterious man has stolen the preacher's identity. The local sheriff (Michael Shannon) becomes acquainted when the preacher is himself a victim of theft. The routine investigation threatens to reveal the murder; while the town parishioners are drawn to their new spiritual leader.
The film goes south when ostensibly intelligent characters fail to follow their instincts. Celia, who wears a pink bathrobe throughout, constantly remarks that the preacher is unlike any other she has met. The sheriff, who's also her lover, harbors deep suspicions. But he cannot put the pieces together. A subplot brings up the racial disparities that fuel mistrust between the police and locals. The preacher manages to overcome that barrier. His quick acceptance and ability to convince the churchgoers is too convenient. Everyone illogically turns a blind eye to the stranger and the events that have accompanied him. It's also hard to believe the townsfolk had no picture of him or physical description.
The Quarry showcases the talents and screen presence of two Hollywood stalwarts. Shea Whigham and Michael Shannon have had brilliant careers as character actors. Both men are in top form as they chew up scenes together. It's grit versus grit as the preacher and sheriff engage. Their performances, though good, are not compelling enough to overcome the film's issues.
The Quarry is shot with a slow focus in sparse settings. The style choices are effective in building tension. The problem is that the tension goes nowhere. The characters mull about until a strangely edited final act. An opportunity for a provocative climax was missed. Director Scott Teems (That Evening Sun) overindulges his venerated actors. The plot stagnates when it desperately needs to pick up speed.
Shea Whigham and Michael Shannon are the high points in a low adrenaline film. The Quarry fails to entertain. I honestly can't recommend the film, even on the strength of the leads. The Quarry is a production of EFC Films with distribution by Lionsgate. It's available on demand with a Blu-Ray/DVD release on June 16th.