By Liam Lacey
Much of the 75-minute running time of the Nova Scotia-set North Mountain is devoted to men fighting each other, grappling, stabbing, breaking fingers, grunting, punching and shooting each other, with both guns and a cross-bow.
Some of this is normal genre fare: It’s the story, of a young hunter finding a wounded fugitive with a bag of money, the arrival of homicidal gangsters from New York on his trail, ambushes and counter-attacks. It makes for a familiar kind of wintry, small-town neo-noir in the vein of Fargo or A Simple Plan.
But there are a couple of twists in this first-time film from writer-director indigenous filmmaker Bretten Hannam. The protagonist is a young Mi’cMaw man named Wolf (Justin Rain) and the burly, middle-aged fugitive, also a Native, named Crane (Glen Gould). At about the half-hour mark, during one of those fights, the two men start kissing and pull off their clothes to have sex. They bond, quickly, which, I suppose is what happens in any Hitchcock movie when people combine adrenalin and attraction. Though, in this case, the moment is surprising.
North Mountain has a split personality between its mechanical thriller plot, and its portrait of a sensitive, if largely guarded and taciturn, affair between two indigenous men a generation apart. Unlike other movies about working-class gay relationships - Brokeback Mountain or last year’s excellent, God’s Own Country - there’s little of Wolf’s background and the emotional isolation he suffers. He lives with his non-speaking grandmother, Nan (Katherine Sorbey) in a rural cabin. Each day, he traps and hunts with his crossbow. He visits the general store weekly for staples, where his non-Native aunt, Mona (Meredith MacNeill) puts food on his tab until his monthly cheque arrives.
After a couple of shared sensitive scenes of few words, the last act of the film is back to the fighting, culminating in a stretch of the film where Wolf and Crane use their knowledge of the woods and advantage as hunters against the sadistic goons - who are not only out of their element but dumb enough to want to kill even before they know where their money is.
North Mountain’s quotient of generic brutality outweighs its episodes of tenderness, adding up to a film that, while breaking some valuable ground, is a net disappointment.
North Mountain. Directed and written by Bretten Hannam. Starring Justin Rain, Glen Gould, Katherine Sorbey, Meredith MacNeill. North Mountain plays at the Imagine Carlton Cinema.