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#‘Lake George’ Review: Shea Whigham and Carrie Coon in a Conventional Neo-Noir With a Few Welcome Twists

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A nifty little neo-noir carried by two likeable leads, Lake George follows a pair of down-and-out, middle-aged criminals who try to rip off a rich gangster and somehow get away with it.

Is that a familiar premise? Yes. Do stars Shea Whigham and Carrie Coon manage to make the material feel both fresh and engaging? Yes. Is there still a theatrical audience out there for this kind of modest, well-acted and slickly crafted B-level thriller? That remains to be seen.

Lake George

The Bottom Line

Both familiar and fresh.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
Cast: Shea Whigham, Carrie Coon, Glenn Fleshler, Max Casella
Director, screenwriter: Jeffrey Reiner

1 hour 38 minutes

Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, veteran director Jeffrey Reiner’s latest feature offers up a few welcome twists on a typical noir scenario: Ex-con Don (Whigham) gets out of jail and tries to collect the money he’s owed by an L.A. thug, Armen (Glenn Fleshler), who lives in a massive McMansion up in the Hollywood Hills. But Don is no tough guy, and he winds up getting coerced into killing Armen’s former squeeze, Phyllis (Coon).

There’s nothing new about that set-up, which is hammered out in the first 10 minutes or so. The rest of Lake George is all about how that initial plot unravels, and keeps unraveling until the very end.

This is because Don is not your typical outlaw, but rather a meek, world-weary claims adjuster who served a long prison sentence for helping Armen pull off a slew of insurance frauds. Over-the-hill, with a bad arm and paralyzed by panic attacks, he’s not exactly the right candidate to carry out a murder. And so it’s no surprise that instead of shooting Phyllis point blank as he was supposed to, he’s duped into teaming up with her to steal from Armen and start a new life.

Reiner’s script recalls Double Indemnity, Out of the Past and other classics of the genre where a semi-good guy crosses paths with a femme fatale and lots of bad stuff ensues. But the director doesn’t follow that formula completely, focusing on a couple of grifters who are already past their prime and just looking for a little peace and quiet. This is especially the case with Don, a broken man estranged from his own family and left with nothing but a small cabin (located beside the film’s titular lake) where he hopes to settle down and be forgotten.

Whigham has had memorable second roles in everything from Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter to HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, so it’s nice to see him playing the lead for a change. He hardly utters a word throughout Lake George, yet he compellingly channels a man with nothing much left to live for, walking around stupefied and shell-shocked by all the wrong turns he’s taken in his life. Coon seems to be having tons of fun as a bleached-blonde seductress who initially takes Don for a major ride, until she begins to realize he perhaps deserves better.

Lake George rolls smoothly, if a bit slowly, along as a two-handed road movie marked by a few strong set-pieces — notably one that takes place inside Armen’s stash house and involves a hidden safe filled with gold bars, a gruesome killing and not one but several amputated fingers.

Reiner, whose credits include such TV shows as High Fidelity, Shameless and Fargo, doesn’t shy away from the gore, and like the Coen brothers he blends it with a brand of deadpan humor that underscores some of the violence. Another standout scene has Don and Phyllis trying to rob a second stash house, only to find themselves witnessing an excruciating sex scene that keeps getting interrupted by a yapping dog.

In the end, all of their shenanigans amount to the theft of something like $200,000, which shows how low the stakes here really are. But that’s also what makes Lake George quite endearing, despite its overall familiarity and 90s-ish vibe (think True Romance but with a pair of tired, old and fairly incompetent thieves). With little to gain and nothing to lose, the best Don and Phyllis may ultimately have is each other.

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