Despite what Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe told us, William Kidd is the only documented example of a pirate burying his treasure. Nevertheless, the pirate treasure map motif took hold in our collective imagination. Over three hundred years later, there are scores of History Channel shows dedicated to the recovery of sunken or buried pirate plunder. Two scuffling brothers will resort to Captain Kidd’s tactics when they chance across a cache of gold coins during an ill-fated burglary in Kevin McMullin’s Low Tide, which opens tomorrow in New York.
Peter and Alan are what the entitled Jersey Shore summer cottagers might call townies. Their mother has passed away and their father is mostly absent on long commercial fishing hauls. Alan, the elder brother, has fallen in with a bad crowd: namely the mercurial red and the weasel-like Smitty. The three often break into summer homes, but unfortunately Smitty broke his ankle during their last misadventure. That is why Alan brings along his straight-arrow brother to serve as lookout on their latest job.
In a rare burst of intuition, Alan finds a bag of rare gold coins under the floor boards. Soon thereafter, he gets pinched and the sociopathic Red abandons Peter to his own resources. Of course, Smitty squealed when Sergeant Kent started sweating him (the cast was a dead giveaway). However, Peter was able to secretly bury the loot before safely slipping back to the mainland. Yes, there is a map. They also have two suspicious criminal associates on their hands.
The idea of a contemporary version of a pirate treasure caper sounds fun and larky, but Low Tide isn’t much of the first and decidedly not the latter. Instead, McMullin opts for a social realism approach, emphasizing the brothers’ marginalized social and economic status. All the major characters are entirely charmless and quite resentful of their lots in life. With the exception of Peter, they are mostly rather slow-witted, which really makes it a chore to spend time with them.
However, like all good noirs, Low Tide definitely gets a boost from some colorful supporting players. Shea Whigham is surprisingly human and relatable as Sgt. Kent, the Jersey Javert. Plus, Mike Hodge adds sly attitude (which is much needed) as Don, the brothers’ pawn broker of choice. Villains are also important in this genre, so it is a good thing Alex Neustaedter is so menacing as Red. Yet, the brothers themselves are pretty plain vanilla.
Low Tide is the sort of film that sounds enormously promising, but turns out to be just okay. Frankly, the slow-burning is a little too slow to recommend at Manhattan movie ticket prices when Low Tide opens tomorrow (10/4) in New York, at the Quad Cinema.