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Main Street

2010 | 93 min | PG | 2.39:1

Main Street


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Theatrical release date

 09 September, 2011

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Main Street Blu-ray

Main Street Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, August 25, 2011

“Main Street” represents the final cinematic contribution from the late playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Tender Mercies”). His rich vocabulary and observance of southern life continues on in this motion picture, but it also holds the producers captive. Unable or unwilling to challenge the writing legend, “Main Street” unfolds with a myriad of problems in the areas of characterization and resolution. There’s something interesting here at the core of the conflict, but the story is offered so little room to breathe, coming across rushed and undercooked.

Life has slowly dwindled out of Durham, North Carolina since the demise of the tobacco industry. Home to shell-shocked residents unable to reverse neighborhood fortunes, help arrives in the form of Gus (Colin Firth), a Texan looking to store canisters of hazardous waste in empty warehouses owned by lifelong resident Georgiana (Ellen Burstyn), who turns to her niece Willa (Patricia Clarkson) for advice. Promising a prosperous future in exchange for local cooperation, Gus appears to be sincerely interested in brightening Durham’s future. On the other side of town is Harris (Orlando Bloom), police officer nursing a crush on Mary (Amber Tamblyn), a frustrated young woman feeling stifled, eager to move on to a bigger city with fresh opportunities.

Director John Doyle (making his feature-film debut) does such a successful job evoking the death of small town America, he makes “Main Street” just heartbreaking to watch at times. It’s a story of the death of an industry, detailing the lethargic daily doings of people who’ve remained after big business has departed. Durham is a potent location for such a display, highlighting the remnants of the cigarette heyday, with miles of dilapidated warehouse spaces left empty, without much hope of ever being put to use again.

That desperation makes room for an intriguing story of economic salvation, with Durham considering replacing one poison with another just to stay afloat. “Main Street” doesn’t push hard enough on the community despair that motivates the consideration of Gus’s seemingly dark offer, with Foote leaving substantial tension behind to focus on the needs of his characters, all facing some type of radical change in their lives. Georgiana represents the heart of the story; she’s an elderly woman who’s lived in Durham all her life, only now facing financial ruin and loss of her home, taking to Gus’s offer as way to make ends meet. Foote doesn’t leave a moment of her concerns behind, scripting lengthy, windy monologues for Burstyn, making the feature feel more like a eulogy than a drama.

Foote’s compulsion to investigate the trepidation of the population is commendable, but it often derails “Main Street,” losing essential drive to wind around individuals who don’t always have much to offer. The subplot between Mary and Harris is a good example of a distraction the film could use less of, though the young woman’s demand to exit Durham before all hope is lost is a fascinating urge the screenplay doesn’t do enough with. There’s also the question mark of Gus, whose integrity is rarely in doubt. There’s no mysterious gray area of loyalty, no question of hucksterism. Gus is basically an honest man dealing in a business he knows makes others quite uneasy. Tension slowly deflates as it becomes clear Foote isn’t interested in complicating matters beyond financial worry.

The performances are gusty and heavily accented but considerate, doing what they can with a rigid script. It’s unfortunate the ensemble is basically hung out to dry by the conclusion of the film, a major cop-out that affixes a yellow smiley face on tale of pessimism. I can’t tell if Foote is being optimistic or ironic, but I’m positive it doesn’t work. “Main Street” deals with too many complex issues concerning community outcry and self to accept a sunny day for ending.

Starring: Orlando Bloom, Colin Firth, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson, Amber Tamblyn

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