3 stars (out of four)
"Coastlines," the new Victor Nunez film set in his special territory, the contemporary Florida Panhandle, is really two films yoked together. There's a sensitive and affecting drama about the romantic entanglements of a local cop, his wife and their ex-convict buddy and an OK but cliched crime drama about corruption, revenge, drug money and big explosions. Both halves of the film are well cast and well made. But, though I liked the triangle drama, I was mostly indifferent to the thriller. I wish Nunez had down-pedaled it, or at least made it less explosive.
In the movie's serene gulf coastal landscape, caught by Nunez here with his usual quiet skill, the central trio are Sonny Mann (Timothy Olyphant), a sexy returning jailbird; Dave Lockhart (Josh Brolin), his childhood best pal turned good-guy deputy; and Ann (Sarah Wynter), Dave's open-hearted, restless wife. Ann loves both of them--just as both of them love her. But Sonny has returned to collect a huge debt ($200,000) for taking the fall for a local businessman/crook (William Forsythe) and his nephew, Eddie (Josh Lucas), and when they waffle on it, tragedy and a bomber strike Sonny's family home and Pa (Scott Wilson). The plot thickens.
A bit too much, actually. Nunez, as he's shown in all his features, from 1979's "Gal Young 'Un" on, is at his best with easy-flowing naturalism. This is actually an old script that he wrote in the '80s (after his failed 1984 John D. MacDonald thriller adaptation, "A Flash of Green"), dusted off and revived. It has more melodrama and less revision than it needs.
All of the actors are good, though there's no one transcendent performance, like Ashley Judd's in "Ruby in Paradise" (1993) or Peter Fonda's in "Ulee's Gold" (1997). Instead, minor characters like Pa or Effie, Sonny's local fling (Angela Bettis), tend to make the big impressions.
Nunez is one of America's finest regional independent filmmakers, a major figure. Since he makes a film only every 5 or 10 years, "Coastlines" (released in 2002, but getting its local premiere now at Facets) disappoints more than it should. But it's only a mild disappointment. The talent is still there, the film better than most. It just needs less crime, more love.
Fri.-Thu., Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-281-4114. MPAA rating: R (for some sexuality and brief language).