Prairie Noir a Home-Cooked B-Movie

Big Muddy
(Canada, 104 min.)
Written and directed by Jefferson Moneo
Starring: Nadia Litz, Justin Kelly, Rossif Sutherland, David La Haye, James Le Gros, Stephen McHattie
Nadia Litz stars as Martha in Big Muddy.

If central Saskatchewan is the core of Canada, then this country is rotten to the heart. Phyllis Dietrichson and other great femme fatales find a worthy counterpart in the sultry outlaw Martha Barlow (played by Nadia Litz, Monkey Warfare), a gun-totin’ prairie momma who loves horses as much as she loves her only son, Andy (Justin Kelly), in the prairie noir Big Muddy. This unconventional Canuck crime drama boasts a great sense of place with atypical characters for the genre and Canadian cinema alike, and central to this atmospheric thrill is Litz’s smoldering anti-heroine Martha. This is one good home-cooked B-movie.

Martha and Andy find themselves on the lam when Martha’s doofus boyfriend/partner-in-crime Tommy (Rossif Sutherland) bungles a double cross at the racetrack and sends some seedy characters after them with a mind for retribution. A car chase ensues along with a shootout or two, and Big Muddy hightails it into Cormac McCarthy country using a road map from Jon Paizs. The film plays with genres conventions and character roles as various nefarious characters search for Martha, including the seedy-looking Donovan (David La Haye), who’s on the run from prison and knocking door to door to claim her. There are few places to hide in wheat field country, however, and Martha and Andy’s stint on the lam doesn’t see much of a horizon.

The petite Litz makes Martha an unpredictable outlaw and maternal figure alike, and much of the film’s suspense comes from the characterization of this woman who keeps her cards close and remains a step ahead of the men on her tail. She’s the strong, silent type, but a cool calculator as well. As the two trails of her past converge upon her childhood home, where she and Andy lay low with her dad (an excellent Stephen McHattie), Big Muddy makes the ultimate showdown a fight between Martha’s maternal side and the dark untamed allure of violence and deviance that calls out in the night. Kelly’s a strong counterpart as the innocent Andy, while McHattie commands the smaller role as Martha’s father, a curmudgeonly old salt who can’t stop what’s coming, no matter how much he tries to forget the past.

Writer/director Jefferson Moneo gives Canada’s most boring province a jolt in Big Muddy and one can hardly see any of the prairie province’s signature flatness in the stylishly violent crime flick. Big Muddy makes the landlocked province a hot bed of crime and sordid behaviour. The film is dark and pulpy thanks to some handsomely dark cinematography by Craig Trudeau that creates a mix of dank interiors and warm, golden wheat fields that glowingly set the stage for the inevitable showdown at sundown. The film transforms the drive-by Saskatchewan into some veritable badlands for a grandly entertaining slice of pulp fiction.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Big Muddy is now playing in limited release.