Twenty years after the car accident that severely injured his wife and killed their young son, Joe (Billy Bob Thornton) returns home. He spent those twenty years in prison because he was drunk and running from the law when he wrecked the car. He was also growing weed, and that’s why the cops were after him in the first place.
Ray McKinnon wrote, directed, and has a supporting role in 2004’s Chrystal. Lisa Blount (McKinnon’s late wife, best known as Lynette from An Officer and a Gentleman) delivers a heart-wrenching performance in the lead role.
This is not a movie you should watch if you’re feeling suicidal. It’s not a pick-me-up, blow sunshine up your ass kind of flick. Except for a somewhat humorous fight scene between Joe and the local hillbilly drug lord Snake, there isn’t much comic relief. Overall, it’s gritty and devastating. Chrystal’s pain is so obvious in her stiff gait that it’s difficult to not have neck pain while you watch. She has random sex to temporarily forget the chronic pain. She sees a spiritual adviser who tells her that her dead baby is in her neck and she needs to find a way to let it go. That causes more weird shit. Through it all, Chrystal manages to maintain a sense of humor. But that could be because she’s mentally ill.
Chrystal was filmed on a shoestring budget, and there are a few indie clichés. For example: Lots of staring, even from the dog, which is pretty creepy. But it carries an emotional depth that compliments the quirks. There’s a satisfying and happy-ish ending, so the horrible indie habit of ending the movie without wrapping up the plot was completely avoided.
Filmed in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Chrystal captures the deep-south in a way that is both beautiful and shameful. The scenery made me miss the summers I would spend at my grandparents in the Ozarks. I love it when I find an emotional connection with a film, even if I don’t relate to the characters. The shameful aspects are the hillbilly meth-cooks and small-town politics, with a little racism thrown in for good measure.
Why should you see it? Chrystal reminds us of the simplistic splendor that is possible in film, even though it’s rarely accomplished. It’s a beautiful, understated film that unfolds like a poetic novel.