With David Lynch and Gus Van Sant, Jon Jost is one of the three great U.S. filmmakers currently working. Passages is my favorite 2006 film, and Over Here will likely be my favorite 2007 U.S. film. (Homecoming, for which Over Here is a companion-piece, is my favorite 2004 U.S. film.) But Jost has been at his calling now for four decades and, prolific, many works of his shine.
Sure Fire shows us a family as it disintegrates—combusts, really—principally as a result of Wes (Tom Blair, riveting), husband and father, a Utah businessman whose gaping insecurity is masked by a complex of bullying, egotistical postures. Wes is the soul of American optimism, like Ronald Reagan, as he pursues his latest get-rich-quick scheme: the sale of retirement and vacation homes in Utah to wealthy Californians. But the desert surrounding Wes suggests the shifting sands beneath his unsteadying feet. The capitalistic rat-race is a hole in which Wes is in free fall. His marriage is cracking from the stress that he daily brings to it, and his teenaged son fatefully tells Wes that he plans to stay with his mother if she leaves Wes. On a hunting trip, a rite-of-passage for his son, Wes shoots the boy dead before committing suicide.
This stunning film, about two interlocking families, marshals an array of avant-garde techniques to convey the inner turmoils of its characters. (More than any other American filmmaker, Jost refutes the idea that interiority is off-limits to cinema.) Yet, Jost also brings documentary realism to Sure Fire. It’s a visionary work that fashions a metaphor for American dismay and desolation out of what may seem initially an unhappy case far afield from our own (presumably) solid, secure lives.
Jost wrote, directed, cinematographed and edited.
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