Uncle John full movie review - A daring gem of an indie and finally a proper showcase for John Ashton
John Ashton is one of those supremely gifted character actors that constantly find themselves in movies not quite worthy of their talents.
The litmus test is this: Search through Ashton's film resume here on IMDb and find movies you've seen that he's starred in. His wide-eyed, wizened face has been endearing you longer than you may realize (his most famous turn has got to be as Judge Reinhold's gruffly sardonic mentor in "Beverly Hills Cop"). His comedic delivery is often so dry it crackles.
This makes him the perfect find for the title role in director Steven Piet's surprisingly engaging, often very funny thriller "Uncle John." The film begins with John hauling away and burning a body in one of his fields on his rural Illinois farm. The victim turns out to be a guy named Dutch who (from the vitriol spouted by almost everyone in the small town) people despised --- and even more so when he found religion and embarked on the not-too-smart idea of going from door to door and "apologizing" for his past sins.
Piet and co-writer Erik Crary's script is rather bold in its execution however, because it doesn't just stick with John and his quietly engrossing story. The writers ping-pong constantly to another plot revolving around John's nephew (Alex Moffat) and a co-worker he's tentatively courting (Jenna Lyng) at a small commercial ad agency in Chicago. For a good part of the film, you'll wonder what the hell this plot has to do with the A-story, but after a while you won't care: Moffat and Lyng have such an electric chemistry and their dialogue is so real, so drop-dead funny at times, that it's just a joy to watch (the B-story actually does provide a lot of insight into John's character, though it's not really needed thanks to Ashton's skill).
It's one of those two-trains-speeding-down-the-track-rolling-right-for-each-other-type scripts (think "No Country for Old Men," though not on that scale, obviously). And of course there's a time bomb at the collision point, and quite a menacing one, in Ronnie Gene Blevins, who plays the dead guy's angry, redneck, slightly-psychotic younger brother.
It all comes together because of Ashton, however. As per usual, he conceals virtually everything he's feeling, but in that cunningly transparent way that lets you into his subconscious --- whether you want to be there or not. He tells you everything you need to know about his life, his dead wife (who Dutch was snaking), and his sense of morality without saying much at all. It's all in that face and those eyes, which have just gotten more expressive with time.
"Uncle John" also gets the look, feel, and cadence of rural Illinois stunningly right. The diner scenes with John's daily cronies (Don Forsten, Gary Houston, and Matt Kozlowski --- all worth mentioning) are priceless and not just in non-condescending accuracy. They're a wonderful Greek chorus. And Alex Moffat's dry-ice deliveries recall David Spade at his sharpest.
It's not a film for the impatient, but there's a mother-lode of riches in that there brush fire.