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SWEET VIRGINIA: 4 STARS. “part ‘Double Indemnity,’ part ‘Blood Simple.'”

Centred around a motel in a small Alaskan town, “Sweet Virginia” is a story of place and people gripped by greed, frustration and murder.

Christopher Abbott is Elwood, a dead-eyed psychopath who comes to town to do a job. He’s been hired by Lila (Imogen Poots) to kill her cheating husband Mitchell (). He does the hit, callously killing two innocent bystanders in the process. Waiting for his money he checks into the motel run by Sam (Jon Bernthal), a former rodeo star now sidelined by injuries. The two men strike up a friendship as Elwood grows edgy and unpredictable waiting for Lila to cough up his fee.

“Sweet Virginia” is a tense and tawdry neo-noir about people on the edge. Much is left unsaid by characters whose life histories are hinted at but never explained. Sam’s limp and shaking hand suggest trauma, Elwood’s rage is illuminated in a one sided phone to his mother while Lila remains a mystery, a small town cipher. Bernthal and Poots perform with understated grace. Abbott is a coiled spring but with enough moments of humanity to prevent becoming a stereotype.

Director Jamie M. Dagg builds atmosphere all the way through. The tiny town and the twin senses of isolation and desperation bring all the story elements together to a slow boil. There is some action but this is a character study, not a police procedural or even a morality play. It’s part “Double Indemnity,” part “Blood Simple,” taking place in treacherous shadows with very little light.

“Sweet Virginia” takes place against a backdrop of duplicity and dread as Dagg maintains an air of menace that keeps things interesting.

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