Director Monte Hellman returns to features after a 21-year-absence with "Road to Nowhere." The film is a stylish, shimmering neo-noir with a multi-layered narrative for which the director's longtime collaborator Steven Gaydos has written an exceedingly elliptical and challenging script.
Genre conventions become a point of departure for Hellman as he contemplates and explores an all-consuming romantic passion, a love of making films, the blurry lines between truth and illusion and the magic of cinema and its enduring power.
The film ultimately stands on the beauty and talent of its femme fatale, and Shannyn Sossamon is so stunning and gifted she actually withstands a remark comparing her to Louise Brooks. With only a vampire movie to her credit, her Laurel has been hired by young director Mitch Haven (Tygh Runyan) to star in his new picture, also called "Road to Nowhere," shooting in the Smoky Mountains outside Asheville, N.C.
In the film within the film, her heroine is pursued by a shady state government official (Cliff De Young, never better) intent on making off with $100 million. Can murder, suicide and worse be far behind?
Like Brooks' Lulu in "Pandora's Box," Sossamon's Laurel is an innocent who has as devastating an effect on her director as her character has on De Young's crooked politico. Hellman's great coup is to suggest that his actors, in playing their roles, in some instances, end up playing themselves.
In its masterful use of evocative imagery and music, "Road to Nowhere" is flawless.
"Road to Nowhere." MPAA rating: R for some language and brief violence. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; and the Regency Paseo, Camarillo.