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Review: Thriller ‘Mean Dreams,’ featuring one of Bill Paxton’s last performances, proves his versatility

Josh Wiggins, from left, Sophie Nélisse and Bill Paxton in the film "Mean Dreams."
(Vertical Entertainment)

Featuring one of Bill Paxton’s final performances, “Mean Dreams” is a painful reminder of the actor’s great talents. Though some may remember him best for his roles as heroes in “Twister” and “Apollo 13,” his villainous turn in this thriller is proof of his range.

As corrupt police officer Wayne Caraway, Paxton is all mustache, machismo and menace. When his daughter Casey (Sophie Nélisse) begins spending time with the quiet farm boy next door, Jonas (Josh Wiggins), her father tries to stop the fledgling romance between the 15-year-olds. Jonas witnesses the depth of Wayne’s abuse, and he commits an act that finds the cop chasing the young couple across the fields.

The script from Kevin Coughlin and Ryan Grassby is the film’s weak point. It treads ground we’ve traveled before, and the clichéd dialogue doesn’t match the stunning cinematography or the all-around strong performances. Paxton will get the attention, but Wiggins shouldn’t be overlooked. He appears entirely guileless and natural as Jonas, a character whose reticence might have proved too much — or too little — for other young actors.

Directed by Nathan Morlando and shot by Steve Cosens, “Mean Dreams” is a beautiful, dangerous picture of rural America with echoes of Terrence Malick. Indie rockers Son Lux composed the percussive score, which provides urgency to Jonas and Casey’s escape. Together, they’ve created an atmospheric film that shifts between the tender romance of the teens and the threat pursuing them.

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‘Mean Dreams’

Rating: R, for some violence and language

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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Playing: Sundance Sunset, West Hollywood; AMC Universal CityWalk, Universal City

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