by Rachel Willis
Coastal Maine is beautiful country, but there is a seedy underbelly of drugs, gambling, and crime that’s explored in director Joe Raffa’s film, Downeast.
Refining a story written by native Maine resident Greg Finley, Raffa’s focus is on a lobsterman named Tommy (Finley). Following a life-changing incident in which he ran afoul of area mobsters, Tommy tries to live with his head down, following his own moral code. The return of his ex, Emma (Dylan Silver), reopens old wounds.
The ‘townies’ are wary of Emma, whose questions threaten the tenuous balance the mob holds over the residents. Even Tommy’s loyalty lies with the town over his budding relationship.
There aren’t many new stories to tell, and if this one sounds familiar, that’s because it is. However, the film boasts compelling characters and wonderful attention to detail that help keep us invested.
From a technical standpoint, this is a well-made movie. Edwin Pendleton Stevens’s cinematography juxtaposes the coastal vacation town against a gritty, cold world that feels lifeless when summer ends. The empty winter boardwalk seems sinister compared to scenes of a beach crowded with summer tourists.
The actors inhabit their roles so organically that often you feel like you’re sitting with them in the local watering hole. Finley is at home with his character, but the others alongside him are just as natural. The only one who stands out as different is Silver, but it works because Emma is an outsider to this world—she talks tough like the rest of them, but she isn’t one of them, and her world view doesn’t align with the townies.
The film’s biggest issue lies with the characters’ motivations. While things seem straightforward in the beginning, they take a turn toward the unusual. Characters’ decisions make zero sense given what we know of them. Even the background players behave strangely. Plotlines resolve in head-scratching ways. It all detracts from the strong chemistry the actors create as members of a close, if tenuous, community.
There is a lot crowded into the plot, so some characters are shallow compared to others. The mobsters are one-dimensional villains, and while a case could be made that’s the truth in real life, it doesn’t make for compelling storytelling.
Downeast shows how important a strong screenplay is because, without it, you’re left with a beautiful, forgettable film.