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Film Review: Durant’s Never Closes

Tom Sizemore returns to form in new film Durant’s Never Closes.

 

Part western. Part noir. Part period piece. Part crime drama. Part dark comedy. Part surrealist film. All mystery.

Based in part on the book The Saga of Jack Durant by Mabel Leo and a play by Terry Earp, Durant’s Never Closes is the first big feature film by Phoenix-based, writer-director Travis Mills, whose company Running Wild Films spearheads an emergent Arizona independent film scene. Mills and the Running Wild team financed the film themselves, raising money for the production through various fundraisers and a successful Kickstarter campaign.

If you’ve never heard of Jack Durant, don’t panic. He’s a Phoenix, Arizona legend. A brief overview: when he died he left his house and annual allowance of $50,000 to his dog, Humble, had connections to the mob, and was briefly one of the FBI’s Top Ten Most Dangerous Men in Arizona. If the film itself is any indication of the real Durant’s character, it can be deduced that he really, really loved his restaurant.

Both funny and dark, Durant’s toggles back and forth through time, riding the thin line dividing dream from reality as Jack pits the meaning of his poorer life choices against the backdrop of his success that is Durant’s Steakhouse where the majority of the film takes place.

Sizemore shines as the moody, spastic restaurateur Jack Durant, a man seemingly torn between anger and guilt, and a whole smorgasbord of emotion. Durant’s is Sizemore’s first film in years that really captures his range, but for all of Sizemore’s cunning performance, we never do get our hooks into his “Jack Durant” as deeply as we’d like.

As the film plays out, it’s largely stream-of-consciousness narrative over the course of a day in true Joycean form (à la Ulysses) as Durant examines his past joys, sorrows, and sins. From scene to scene, he is constantly distracted from his reading of Shakespearean tragedy, as if in those pages he sees a reflection of his own fate. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. “Nothing lasts long enough,” laments Durant in a key scene, “that’s the big joke. Everything changes. Everything fades.”

The supporting cast adds a healthy contrast to Sizemore’s temperamental lead. Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) provides an extra dose of comic relief as real-life baseball star Dizzy Dean. Peter Bogdanovich’s (The Last Picture Show) presence in the film is foreboding as Jack’s friend and confidant George, while Michelle Stafford (The Young and the Restless) sizzles as Jack’s feisty ex-wife Suzie. In addition to them, the film features an ensemble cast comprised almost entirely of actors local to Arizona.

Besides Sizemore’s fractured, bipolar-rage monologues, the best moments in the film are the slow-motion dream sequences. Mills picks up a cue or two from Luis Buñuel by way of Stanley Kubrick in these scenes and makes them his own. Also, the writing is solid, chock-full of metaphor and mystery. Same with the score, which shifts from baroque and classical to sounds reminiscent of Ennio Morricone without feeling clunky. That being said, one leaves Durant’s feeling not quite full, albeit satisfied. The film is short, barely over an hour by the time the credits begin to roll, accompanied by a montage of interviews with people who knew the real Durant. That’s forgivable, though.

Overall, this isn’t a film for the delicate. It’s thick and juicy, the way Jack likes his steak. Chew slowly and savor.

 

 

Durant’s Never Closes plays in select theaters starting January 21, 2016. Check this listing for screenings near you

 

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