Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
“I made a lot of mistakes in my time,” the voice of a man, a rather older and grizzled-sounding man, intones at the opening of this film over images of very spacious skies at sunset. “All mine,” the narrator, who does not return for the rest of the film, continues. So. “Lost In The Sun,” written and directed by Trey Nelson, is the chronicle of one man’s lot of mistakes, the man being John (Josh Duhamel) whom we first see casually perusing the aisles of a gas station convenience store. The gas station itself is of the falling-apart sort, beloved of filmmakers who’ve spent a lot of time looking at old Robert Frank coffee table photograph books and keep Faded Americana websites bookmarked. I guess the proprietor can’t afford to replace the façade by the pumps because he spent too much on the very intimidating shotgun he points at Duhamel as his character makes to leave.
Duhamel then offers to the shotgun-pointer “the truth,” which means the movie flashes back once more, this time to a week earlier, and Duhamel’s John is seen more or less crashing the funeral of a young woman who has been very well laid out. To what end seems uncertain, as her teenage son Louis (Josh Wiggins) seems the sole actually-invested mourne. The pushy clergyman who put the whole thing together then tries to hustle Louis onto a bus, to take up residence with his grandparents in New Mexico.
John has got other ideas. He spins a yarn to Louis and makes an offer to drive him to his destination. John makes an enigmatic phone call, and off the two go, on a road trip that will, among other things, take in a good deal of Faded Americana.
For the first fifteen minutes or so Wiggins and Duhamel weave a performing rhythm that conjures some genuine intrigue. As in, you actually do wonder what these two people really are to each other. But when John makes a pit stop with some sharks who’ve got hooks in him, the exposition gets pretty dull: “I didn’t ask for your protection,” John laconically protests to one weasel. Weasel Number Two helpfully explains, “Yeah, but you took it. You knew jail coulda been dangerous for you, John.” Jail. Dangerous. Imagine.
Soon enigmatic flashbacks-within-flashbacks provide further “clues,” John keeps heedlessly putting Louis in harm’s way as he goes about looting and shooting, and during moments of respite John tries to impart wisdom to Louis. “Look at that piece of ass,” he says of a drive-in restaurant waitress (see, I wasn’t kidding about Faded Americana). He then advises Louis that nothing on this earth is more deadly than a “scorned woman.” Never occurs to the guy that regularly referring to women as pieces of ass might go a long way to soliciting their scorn, but hey.
As John and Louis keep losing the cars they steal, John hits upon the idea of traveling with a tough single mom and her teen daughter. This team, featuring Lynn Collins and Emma Fuhrmann livens things up, but insufficiently. By the time you’re meant to learn just what the tie is between John and Louis, you’ve stopped caring. But, thanks to the excellent if a little on the obviously-pictorial-side cinematography by Robert Barocci, you’ve seen some lovely vistas on the way to indifference.
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