By Jim Slotek
It has a rich premise: a released convict returns to a small town to discover his mother dead by suicide and his businessman brother busy spending her life insurance money.
But the Canadian crime story Juggernaut does not have the propulsive narrative force its title implies (it was originally titled Wrecking Ball, which is equally unfulfilled). You expect some sort of vigilante rumble like Walking Tall, but you get more of a morally ambiguous slow burn.
Juggernaut, by Australian-born Vancouver-based Daniel DiMarco, starts out as if it will indeed adhere to those bull-in-a-china-shop intimations. We meet brutish Saxon Gamble (Jack Kesy, the chief thug in the recent Death Wish reboot) getting into a bar fight over a woman on his first night back in town.
He’s bailed out by his brother, a chamber-of-commerce local hero named Dean (David Cubitt), who passes on the news of their mother’s death and the by-the-way aside that there’s some life insurance money in the estate for him too.
Saxon doesn’t take this news well, and immediately suspects foul play with his brother as the prime suspect (we see the mom, played by Fanny Migneault-Lecavalier, in flashbacks, and darned if she doesn’t look pretty happy).
Scriptwise, Juggernaut plays its hand early. The local sheriff (Philip Granger) gives Saxon a nothing-to-see-here talk, and then goes off to warn Dean that his brother is sticking his nose where it doesn't belong.
Moreover, as if for the comprehension-impaired, we meet the Gamble boys’ dad Leonard (Peter McRobbie), a former thug turned preacher, who sermonizes about how good men are capable of bad deeds, while bad men are capable of good ones. I get it.
There’s a lot of subplot and talk that inflates this simple premise longer than it needed to be, and characters we could have lived without. I include Dean’s fiancé Amelia (Silicon Valley’s Amanda Crew), who takes a sympathetic shine to Saxon. Similarly, Stephen McHattie (who’s in everything these days) is along as the dad of Saxon’s equally sketchy best friend Hank (Ty Olsson), and apparently a sort of tough-love surrogate dad to Saxon. He seems, maybe, to have been part of whatever scheme went down, but he’s basically there to look sinister (at which he's awesome).
The simmering, menacing Kesy is pretty impressive holding down the movie, though, and maintaining the bad-man-doing-one-good-thing vibe. There is some random violence, designed in at least one case to dissuade us from rooting for Saxon unconditionally.
(He and Ty beat the crap out of the insurance broker who handled his mom’s policy – seriously, the guy didn’t deserve it. The fact that they’re wearing masks is ridiculous, since it’s a small town and it’s patently obvious who had the motive to commit this assault).
Another plus, aside from the charisma of the lead, is the filming. Shot in and around Kamloops (although the plot puts it drivable distance from New Mexico), the countryside is stark,dreamy and bleak. Kudos to cinematographer Patrick Scola for making the scenery as much a metaphor for the unforgiving repercussions of the movie’s events as anything in the script.
Juggernaut. Written and directed by Daniel DiMarco. Starring Jack Kesy, David Cubitt and Peter McRobbie. Opens Friday, March 9 at Toronto’s Carlton Cinema.