The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"BULLITT COUNTY"

Bullitt County

Bullitt County is the kind of movie that makes you think you have it all figured out, then hits you with one left-field surprise after another. Like many true independent films, there are some rough edges, but they're easy to look beyond because of the way the plot sucks you in. Writer/director David McCracken establishes himself as someone to watch with this darkly funny and intense feature.

Set in 1977, the story follows a group of college friends who reunite for a bachelor party for their pal Gordie (Mike C. Nelson). The best man, Keaton (played by McCracken), has arranged for them to complete the Bourbon Trail -- a string of Kentucky distilleries they unsuccessfully attempted a decade prior.

While doing this, the gang decides to go in search of the "Bullitt Treasure." Allegedly, a small fortune in Prohibition money has long been buried in the woods, fiercely protected by a local family. Not long after beginning this quest, they encounter an elderly man, referred to as "The Mr." -- portrayed with wicked menace by Richard Riehle (Office Space) -- and his wife "The Mrs." (Dorothy Lyman). Nothing more should be said about the plot, except that things spiral wildly out of everyone's control.

As a thriller, Bullitt County works quite well. It reveals pieces of the puzzle gradually, which keeps you hooked. Other times, it shrewdly misdirects you, so that an unexpected development will catch you off guard later on. McCracken provides stylish direction, occasionally employing the use of a tension-building split-screen technique so skillfully that Brian DePalma would be proud. Sometimes in movies of this sort, there's an unspoken assumption that the characters are safe. Here, we really believe at every second that they are in grave danger, which amplifies the suspense.

Beyond that, the movie works as a character study. Gordie not only has a drinking problem, he also shows signs of being an angry drunk, which absolutely affects his relationship with his friends. Over the course of the film, we learn that, like virtually all alcoholics, Gordie is running from feelings he doesn't want to face. Bullitt County's portrait of addiction is both accurate and compelling.

Mike C. Nelson does strong work as Gordie, capturing how the fun-loving aspect of his personality hides a darker, more troubled side. The other standout is Jenni Melear as Robin, the lone female in the group. Her character has an interesting arc that allows us to see how thoroughly and precisely she can see through her friends' dysfunctional behaviors. The actress gives a nice, three-dimensional performance.

A few scenes in Bullitt County's third act are a bit heavy-handed. They can't be specified without giving away some of the tale's surprises, but they tend to involve an excess of dialogue when a touch of subtlety might have been more powerful. That's a common flaw in a lot of indies, though, and certainly nothing terribly detrimental.

The production values are quite good, with Sean McDaniel's cinematography adding a nice, gritty atmosphere to the proceedings. Those elements contribute significantly to the overall impact. With its fight-for-the-money story and theme about the destructive nature of alcoholism, Bullitt County proves to be a clever indie with real substance underneath its twisting, turning plot.


Bullitt County is unrated, but contains strong language and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.


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