The Quarry has the slowest opening ten minutes of any movie I've ever seen. So slow, in fact, that I repeatedly wanted to scream “Get on with it!” at the screen. When those ten minutes are over, the film doubles its pace, going from one mile per hour to two. Saying that hurts, because there are some really talented people in this picture. But once you realize the story is going to be symbolic-with-a-capital-S, everything that will happen becomes painfully obvious, and so you sit there waiting impatiently for the movie to march through the paces you already know are coming.
Shea Wigham plays “The Man” – and that's your first clue that this film is going to be pretentious. He's a nameless drifter who catches a ride with a Latino man, David Martin (Bruno Bichir). They make a pit stop at a quarry, where David informs The Man that he's on his way to a great opportunity and a better life. The Man promptly kills him, steals his ride, and assumes his identity.
It turns out that David was headed to a small town, where he would serve as the new preacher. So The Man is now in a position of having to pretend to be a servant of God when, in fact, he is a grave sinner. He stands at the pulpit, sermonizing on the need for atonement, knowing that he has murdered someone. Do you see where all this is going now? Michael Shannon co-stars as Chief Moore, the local cop who senses that something is not right with the new pastor, and Catalina Sandino Moreno is Celia, the woman who provides The Man with room and board.
The Quarry isn't the least bit subtle in its themes. The Man, forced to preach on sin, suddenly has to grapple with his own actions. Pretending to be holy when he is not starts to take a psychological toll. That would be an interesting idea if the film didn't continually beat you over the head with it, courtesy of long scenes in which The Man stands before his congregation looking tortured. Or long scenes where he walks around town looking tortured, for that matter.
An equal lack of subtlety is found in a prominent subplot. The Man's van is stolen by a Latino drug dealer, Valentin (Bobby Soto), and his brother Poco (Alvaro Martinez). When David's body is found, Chief Moore pins the murder on them. The Man, of course, knows they had nothing to do with it. Yes, there's a whole racism angle tied in. The Man would be gravely sinning again by letting two innocent Mexican people take the fall for his crime. The manner in which this unfolds is both predictable and didactic.
The Quarry drags because there's no dramatic thrust to the plot's events. Ninety-eight minutes feel like ninety-eight days. Part of that is because, on the rare occasions when they aren't yelling at each other, the characters mostly stand around, speaking in halting, uncertain tones. Wigham and Shannon are fantastic actors who give committed performances here. The film's failures are not their fault. Scott Teems' flat direction, coupled with the sententious screenplay he wrote with Andrew Brotzman, are the culprits.
Despite two good leading actors, The Quarry is a frustratingly sluggish movie that thinks it's more profound than it really is.
out of four
The Quarry is rated R for some violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.