SWSX: Americana Offers a Twist on Traditional Western Crime Dramas

When I learned I could have an attendant accompany me to screenings at SXSW because I am ADA qualified, I enlisted my granddaughter. With her help, I would not have to carry bags or endure the pain associated with doing certain things myself. I had pre-set my schedule, so off to the movies, we went. Americana was described on SXSW Go as a crime, mystery, and thriller – my favorite! Since no ratings are in the app, I figure, what the heck. Notably, my face became flushed at the language and violence, but my granddaughter didn’t want to leave and said, “I know what fake is”, so we stayed. I am glad I did, even though I had to confess to her parents that the first film she attended with me surely held or would hold an R rating.

Americana, directed by Tony Tost, is an intricately woven crime thriller revolving around a Lakota “ghost shirt.” Greed and need fill the desire of different groups of would-be thieves and criminals. While most characters are driven by greed and what to make their fortune selling the artifact, others fall into the plan to escape the poor circumstances of their lives. While it begins with a little boy’s imagination, the story ends with a formidable face-off between unique and oddball characters.

Although Tost’s feels stylistically and thematically like a Western, the marginally satirical and comedic tone of Tost’s script, coupled with insane and wholly gratuitous violence and the at times sardonic and often rapid-fire dialogue make it more like, say, Django in Chains than a classic western like True Grit. His non-linear narrative structure gives Americana an interesting flow and does take some getting used to. He manages to tie everything and everyone together, even though his characters are wildly different and bizarrely connected.

Again, I found it a bit unsettling to watch Americana with my granddaughter; she and I both liked how the film was so cleverly laid out and filmed. It does indeed deserve an R rating, but Tost’s film is an admirable and quirky pseudo-modern day-Western. The cast of familiar and unfamiliar faces all offer solid and memorable performances, and Tost’s direction is thoughtful and engaging. It earns 4 stars from me. It will positively win fans!

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