Thriller Steel Country dabbles with topical issues and themes relating to today's America, but the results are messy and muddled
Believe it or not, Steel Country is about Trump’s America. If you can’t see this theme lingering around the many men who grossly abuse the power they wield, the TRUMP-PENCE picket signs that adorn several front gardens may be a clearer indication; the message is spelled out for the viewer in literal big, bold letters. Steel Country has noble intentions of addressing America as we know it today, but with a story that meanders and confounds, its commentary is never quite executed successfully.
Donny (Scott) lives a relatively simple life. He drives a bin lorry, lives with his mother, and visits his daughter on the court-approved days. His life is suddenly thrown into chaos when a young boy is found dead in a creek. Convinced that foul play is involved, Donny obsessively searches for the truth, clashing not with just a corrupt police force but a corrupt town. The circumstances are similar, but Twin Peaks this is not. The mystery of Laura Palmer still eludes three decades later, while the mystery of Steel Country is solved before you even realise it’s over.
The film dabbles with topical issues and themes, and in trying to cover everything that is wrong with contemporary America, it spreads itself too thin. Steel Country is not particularly engaging as a mystery, as a thriller, or even as political commentary. Casting Andrew Scott as an autistic person is also contentious – and his performance veers dangerously close to coming across as a crude stereotype – but the actor is able to imbue his character with adequate complexity and nuance, ensuring that Donny is more than his autism.
Steel Country shines during its rare tender moments, though: a poignant and heartbreaking scene sees Donny finally coming to accept that the love he feels for his daughter’s mother is not reciprocated. There’s a better film in here somewhere, but in trying to say too much with too little, Steel Country becomes messy and muddled.
Steel Country screen at Edinburgh International Film Festival on 24 & 25 Jun – more info here
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