Review: Road to Nowhere


Monte Hellman’s Road to Nowhere is the director’s first film since Two-Lane Blacktop in 1971. The design of this film is convoluted to the point of no return. The actual story and layout is simple on the surface, but once the layers start unraveling, the viewer will find themselves sucked into the film’s dizzying vortex. Such a film welcomes audience participation in getting in on the mystery, much like a great noir would do. This film operates on similar rules to an extent, but will alienate those looking for clean cut answers.

The film centers on an odd real life story involving an insurance fraud/murder/suicide that took place in North Carolina. The actors are based on the perpetrators/deceased: Velma Duran and Rafe Tachen. Young director Mitchell Haven is attempting to bring this story to screen by shooting in the small town where the events took place, Haven’s film is also titled ‘Road to Nowhere’. We’re then introduced into the film within a film concept, where fact and fiction effortlessly blend into one another, resulting in one intoxicating narrative.

Actress Shannon Sossamon delivers the best performance of her career as Laurel, a stunning young “non-actress,” who fits effortlessly in the role of Velma. Sossamon’s natural beauty goes unmatched, as she exudes the persona of a classic femme fatale. Oddly enough, Laurel’s uncanny resemblance to Velma Duran is what gets her the role. During the filming of Haven’s ‘Road to Nowhere’, Haven and Laurel begin falling for each other, much to the dismay of the rest of the crew, most notably Bruno, an insurance fraud agent who believes Laurel isn’t who she says she is. There is also Cliff De Young playing Cary Stewart, a veteran actor hired to play Rafe Tachen in Haven’s film. Stewart’s involvement further complicates matters as we occasionally see him making phone calls from overseas, are these scenes apart of Haven’s film, or are they something entirely different? Is the real Velma Duran actually dead?

The timeline of the film is severely fractured, prompting speculation on the actual identities of the characters and their true motives. For all of the head scratching and the squinting of the eyes that took place while I watched the film, it’s oddly exciting to see what will occur next. The transition from scene to scene plays out gloriously, as the script has no shortage of cryptic offerings and gestures. It’s all an act, a show, a tragic play.

Steven Gaydos’ script is effortlessly nuanced. If we play close attention, we can mildly guess at which scenes are being played out in real life and which scenes are apart of Haven’s film. Hellman’s motives, however dense they are, are routinely hidden from us. Hellman is obviously implicating that there’s a strong correlation between art and life, performer and performance. The film goes for broke at times in trying to cover the vast territory of this oddly constructed world that Hellman has created. There is however, no shortage of mood throughout, the film within a film concept has been done to death, but Hellman’s approach comes off as fresh and original. If you find that you’re not getting much out of the film, just recognize that it’s all about the journey and not the destination.

80/100 - Road to Nowhere promises nothing, hence the title. However, there is no shortage of danger, mystery, and tragedy around every corner of the film. It’s a dazzling exercise in post-modern noir.