Director Mélanie Laurent and actors Ben Foster and Elle Fanning bring some seedy poetry to “Galveston,” a muted crime drama that runs out of plot too soon, but makes up for it with powerhouse performances and a finely shaded sense of place. The picture’s not at the same level as “The Florida Project” or “You Were Never Really Here,” but it’s reminiscent of both.
Foster plays Roy, a drunken thug who’s just been informed by his doctor that his life of crime may be nearing its end. Fanning plays Rocky, a teenage prostitute Roy rescues from the goons holding her captive. Together, they retreat to a cheap motel in coastal Texas, stopping off to pick up one of Rocky’s younger relatives.
What happens when they reach their destination? Well, that’s where “Galveston” falls short. Based on an award-winning Nic Pizzolatto novel (screenplay credited to Jim Hammett), this movie’s mostly a character sketch, with some shoehorned-in story points involving Roy’s underworld connections coming back to haunt him.
But throughout, Laurent and company capture the bruised, helpless feeling at the heart of “Galveston.” This is a film about two people with no real future to look forward to, killing time in a place where they assume — wrongly — that they’ll be left alone.
A surprising coda brings what little narrative there is to a haunting conclusion. Give credit, as always, to Foster, who can convey a lifetime of regret in just a few lines of dialogue.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 19, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also on VOD