Director: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Writers: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, Marc Tulin
Producers: Luc Déry, Kim McCraw
Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Anie Pascale
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 90 min.
Country of Origin: Canada
Over the last few years, Thomas Haden Church has emerged as an excellent supporting player in a wide variety of projects, from indie productions to big Hollywood movies, but he rarely breaks out into leading performances. Leave it to a small Canadian production to put the actor front and centre in a movie that is, for most of its running time, simply Haden Church being excellent.
Whitewash opens with death. At first you think it might be accidental but when Bruce (Haden Church) loads the body onto his snowplow and proceeds to dispose of it, it’s pretty clear that this wasn’t an accident. Or well planned. Disoriented, angry and drunk, Bruce drives his plow off the road and into the vast woods, driving recklessly for miles before crashing and blacking out. He wakes the next morning and assesses the situation: his vehicle is broken beyond repair, he has limited supplies and he has no idea where he is.
What begins as a tale of survival quickly devolves into the story of a man spiralling into madness. After a few days in the bush, Bruce makes a dash for civilization only to be drawn back into the wilderness in the dead of winter. He drags his necessities, fuel, food and alcohol, into the woods and the safety of his snowplow which has quickly become his safety net. In flashbacks, we learn that Bruce is a lonely widower who has pretty much given up on life. He can’t work, he has little money and he spends his days at home drinking his sorrows into slumber. We also discover that the dead man is Paul (Quebec superstar Marc Labrèche), a man with his own set of troubles that takes full advantage of Bruce when he realizes that the widower is easy prey. There’s a sense from early on that Bruce has been on the verge of losing his mind for some time but the events that unfold when Paul arrives in his life push him over the edge.
Whitewash is impressive. Labrèche is fantastic as Paul, a weasel of a man who goes from reeking of desperation to despicable con-man in the span of a few days but this is the Haden Church show and the actor shines in his performance as a man who is slowly pushed into madness. He doesn’t begin as crazy but there’s a hint that Bruce is a little unhinged all along and Haden Church handles the minute changes in the character really well. He also possesses great screen presence which is imperative considering he’s alone for a large part of the movie’s running time.
Whitewash takes place mostly in winter and director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais and cinematographer André Turpin (who previously worked with Denis Villeneuve on Incendies and Maelström) use the snowy landscape effectively, its harshness providing a nice visual queue of Bruce’s mental collapse.
Survival stories are nothing new and they vary greatly in quality but Hoss-Desmarais’ Whitewash is one of the better ones, a mix of survival story and thriller that also has a surprisingly dark sense of humour reminiscent of the Cohen Brothers’ work. Thoroughly enjoyable, Whitewash is a great debut for Hoss-Desmarais and a fantastic showcase for Haden Church.