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Nadine (Dree Hemingway) and Lewis (Keith Stanfield) are a young couple in the throes of the worst kind of loss, struggling to overcome a tragedy that has left both incomparably drained. They are clearly in love but there is a chasm between them that widens with every knowing look.
They seek peace and comfort in the vacation home of her childhood, a house on the water on a Bahamian island. There, Nadine feels some hope in the company of Roy (Robert Wisdom), an older man who takes care of her father’s property and who, when she was young, taught her how to swim and spearfish in the clear blue waters off shore. And it is here, under the waves again, where she finds some balance in her life, literally swimming with sharks, sometimes seemingly tempting them to strike. Above water, she and Lewis drink, though Nadine to excess. And escape. And anger.
Also on the island is a young man named Myron (Sam Dillon). He’s homeless and works for scraps, sometimes riding out to fish with Roy or worse, with a local crime lord named Dough Boy (Leonard Earl Howze) who specializes in one of the most horrific of crimes. He has plans for the wayward and desperate Myron, luring him further into a dark well of lies and thievery. These worlds collide of course, and lead to a moment that will define them all.
Directed (and co-written) by Logan Sandler, Live Cargo is a quiet film shot in moody black & white that is sparse with its dialogue and yet speaks at great length to the characters and how they fit into their world. Sandler allows incredibly long moments of voiceless scenery to pass, but there isn’t a single frame that feels underused or unnecessary, each a fragile piece in a calamitous image whose revelation is, in no uncertain terms, haunting. Take the build up to an island storm that would in any other movie, be a cacophony of wind and water but here is a three-minute near silent montage of people and locations that staggers with such beauty we don’t even realize what it is until the darkness is broken by a floodlight that finds a nightmare in the water. That Sandler avoids what he does and still makes it as harrowing as it is, is simply astonishing.
Perhaps most daring though is Sandler’s choice to wash the colors from his story, stripping away the expectation of the typical island paradise, including the undersea coral and fish that swim near. The rich black & white cinematography leaves this setting void of the distractions that would layer this story in falsehoods. This is not a place of joy, and these people are not living in Eden. Nadine, rail thin, long-haired and blonde weaves about the town clearly different from those she encounters, and we watch, like them, in fascination as she loses herself to drink and dance. A scene at a bar as she gently spins with eyes closed as blurry shades of men in the distance watch is a challenging moment, and we are left to wonder the outcome when one man draws near.
Hemingway is very good here, not just convincing as a woman in shreds but earnest and so filled with grief, she appears as if she might crumble with every step. Stanfield is also strong, especially in the latter stages, and so is Wisdom, who is the go-between the two sides of the story, playing the mayor of the town who tries to keep a tepid peace. Howze is terrifying as Dough Boy and Dillion finds the right tone in Myron, a frail man with nothing left to lose who can’t quite believe what consequences his actions have.
Live Cargo is nothing short of a minor miracle for Logan, in his directorial debut, who refuses to make what would seem a standard crime thriller, instead defying expectation and delivering an honest, gripping, visually arresting experience that will linger like the breaking waves of a restless sea long after its over.
Director: Logan Sandler
Writers: Thymaya Payne, Logan Sandler
Stars: Dree Hemingway, Keith Stanfield, Robert Wisdom
Genre: Thriller, Drama