After serving 12 years for armed robbery, Jimmy (Jason Sudeikis) is released from prison and intends to give his childhood love Amy (Evangeline Lilly) — now dying from cancer — the best year of her life. South Of Heaven takes cues from its wide-open setting, in lands where bank robbers can put unmarked distance between themselves and their crimes, traversable only on skinny ropes of a two-lane highway. If you're destined to be caught, it only takes longer in an arid state like Texas, which in turn gives you the proper amount of time to say your goodbyes. South Of Heaven spends two hours on a familiar kind of goodbye, and thanks to the emphasis on feeling, the film just makes the landing.
Strong Leads: The film works on account of its trio of main performances, though particularly the romance between Jason Sudekis and Evangeline Lily acts as the film's emotional core — as all actions in the film are spun from their tangled web of devotion. Admittedly, it takes time for Sudekis to grow into his character and truly embody Jimmy — a man of immense heart for the love of his life because she's been the only constant factor when he's faced with losing everything, or having to start his life over. The extra time spent developing their relationship works out in terms of the audience being able to buy into the lengths he goes to protect his relationship. Because of this, Jimmy is given a slightly more dimension, and consequently, Sudekis is able to put more honesty into the performance. His put-on accent goes from immediately feeling as though it's pulled from an SNL skit to a sweeter effect of a failed man's attempts to find peace within a twister. No matter the turn of the story, the characters are grounded in their realities, and it helps the slower pace find a comfortable rhythm that keeps the experience engaging.
Crossbreed: South Of Heaven also avoids boredom by being able to hop between lighter and darker tones, giving it a kind of cross-genre appeal. It's very subtle; the shifts are never truly out-of-the-box nor do they put a strain on the story's believably, but they breathe life into what is already a standard crime drama. Mike Colter's character as a rich, blase, vague crime boss does its job within the narrative, but he's not given anything that all that would differentiate the character from the myriad of lookalikes in cinema history. Perhaps that's a throwback, but his menace never really came through, chiefly because it takes until the film's final ten minutes for him to take matters into his own hands. Colter does well as a statuesque evil-doer but he's a cold reflection of Sudekis and Lily. I will say that when South Of Heaven goes for humor — it feels too broad, almost goofy, like the sequence where Jimmy spends time with the crime boss' son. It's also clumsy when it comes to the action scenes, so thankfully, they're sparse so as to spare you the exposure to how un-John Wick-like Sudekis is in a one-shot gunfight.
Equal parts crime drama, thriller, dark comedy, and affectionate romance. South Of Heaven is an interesting jack of many trades, though some are weaker than others. If the script had contained more depth of character, or the filmmaking was more up to the task of the film's genre turns, the end result could have been stirring in more than just one way.
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