South of Heaven is a textbook example of a good idea in theory. Jimmy (Jason Sudekis) receives parole after serving twelve years for armed robbery. Upon getting out, he vows to give his childhood love Annie (Evangeline Lily) the best year of her life. She is dying from cancer and Jimmy wants to make the most of her final days. Unfortunately, Jimmy’s past makes things more difficult than expected.
The performances in the film are fantastic. Sudekis more than holds his own as the dramatic lead. He is not a funnyman trying his hand at drama; he convincingly plays Jimmy as a good man who has been forced into bad decisions. South of Heaven uses some clichés to rev up the plot, but Jimmy always remains consistent.
Annie is more than just a typical love interest. Despite some extraordinary circumstances, she is always calm and at peace with herself. It is a nice touch on a character that can either be played as weak or overly sarcastic.
Credit the great writing for the strong characters. Annie is a great example of someone who has come to accept what is happening in their life. This enables her to put things in perspective. Jimmy has also been forged by his surroundings. He manages to remain good-natured and even funny.
South of Heaven also has a patient plot. The audience is able to get to know the characters and their motivations. As things get more out of hand, the movie remains compelling. It is obvious that this is not going to be just another movie about love and revenge.
Which is why it so disappointing when that is exactly what happens in the final act. Things get real bloody real quick and all the nuance of the first part of South of Heaven is gone. The performances remain great and Jimmy is east to root for, but it is hard to shake the sense the film could have been something more.
South of Heaven releases on theaters, digital, and VOD on October 8
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