Oklahoma: it’s where the wind comes sweeping down the plain and family grudges can turn deadly. Technically, the book was set in Kansas, but the movie was shot in the Sooner State. Frankly, its not like New Yorkers or Angelinos could tell the difference. The family grudge business is what they will focus on, as will Jody Linder. Ten years ago, Billy Croyle was found guilty of murdering her parents, but his sentence has just been commuted. Since the past is already disturbed, Linder starts investigating that tragic night herself in Blake Robbins’ The Scent of Rain & Lightning (trailer here), which is now playing in Los Angeles.
Croyle is mean brute with and an evil temper. He definitely had a score to settle with his former employer, ranching baron Senior Linder (Jody’s grandfather) and the necessary capacity for violence. However, some inconsistencies in the trial record have come to light, starting with his son Collin’s anti-alibi. The morally conflicted young man now admits his father never roused from his drunken stupor on the night of the murders.
As Jody Linder peels away at the onion, she sees a darker side to her parents and platoon of uncles. There was also some embezzlement going on at their Colorado ranch, which may or may not be a red herring. Nobody really wants her to uncover the truth. Plus, the feral Croyle is still out there, nursing his grudges and resentments.
As a dustbowl noir, Scent is stronger on atmosphere than suspense. However, it is a terrific vehicle for Maika Monroe, whose work is remarkably sure-footed throughout the film. Despite her genetic good fortune, as Linder, she always comes across as very down-to-earth and humanly vulnerable. Watching her is like watching your own sister or daughter struggle with some deep, dark family secret.
Monroe also gets first-rate support from a deep ensemble bench. Brad Carter is chillingly and convincingly ferocious as Billy Croyle, while Will Patton demonstrates again why he is one of the best in the business with his hard-charging but increasingly complex portrayal of Senior. However, all the uncles duly look alike (doesn’t anyone in the plains states shave anymore?), which makes them believable as kin, but dashed difficult to tell apart.
Scent is undeniably predictable, but Robbins nicely evokes the lonely vibe of tallgrass country. The genre elements are so-so, but it is worth seeing anyway as a showcase for Monroe, who still has the potential to usurp Jennifer Lawrence’s position in Hollywood, especially given JLaw’s recent string of under-performers and outright bombs. Deserving more attention than its currently getting, The Scent of Rain & Lightning is now playing at the Arena Cinelounge.