Written and directed by Joe Raffa, co-written by lead actor Greg Finley, a dive into the often ignored seedy underbelly of Maine combining crime, revenge and the hope for a new life. Starring: Dylan Silver, Judson Mills, Joss Glennie-Smith, Gareth Williams, Kirk Fox, Joe Holt, Dennis Cockrum, Jay Giannone, Spencer Watson and Pamela Roylance.
This is one of those films that’s very easy to judge by its cover but if you give it a chance, there’s a surprisingly entertaining, consistent and charming film beneath its more stereotypical features. Granted it takes on the classically American indie crime story, good guys getting dragged into bad situations, hiding from their past but what’s interesting is it doesn’t lean heavily into the crime side of its story until much later. For the most part its story takes on an almost sweet personality, its lead characters are honest and simple-natured, they’re loyal and hard-working. It plays out like a humble drama and it’s easy to watch, the earlier instances of bringing through a more violent, threatening edge don’t blend as well with the drama but the balance evens out as time goes on. It takes on a larger vein of darkness towards the end but at that point, it’s given itself enough time to build for it to be more effective, rather than how it feels fairly transparent early on. Ultimately, it’s a surprisingly sentimental story.
The direction is certainly aided by the setting, shooting by the water is always a plus for the visual, it levels up the opening and adds an edge of grit or grime to the atmosphere of the film. Raffa’s style is happily not influenced too much by the story’s crime elements, it remains down to earth much like its characters, which is certainly a factor in holding your attention. The fact you can see it hasn’t tried to add too much darkness or edge, only as much as is necessary, allows its charm to hold out and for you to become invested in these characters. There are moments where it could be tidied or sharpened but they’re instances that are easily forgiven.
Similarly to the rest of the film, the success of Greg Finley’s performance is playing it understated, not trying to be too tough or weathered or dramatic. This is one of the few examples of a former boxer character that isn’t completely controlled by rash emotion and reluctant to take a logical, rational view, he’s intensely responsible, thoughtful and loyal. He’s an earnest character, one that understands and accepts his lot in life and simply strives to do what’s right. His chemistry with Dylan Silver is just the right amount of awkward, they don’t immediately ease into it, they bring across how these characters have to work to be comfortable with one another again after years of absence. Kirk Fox, Gareth Williams and Dennis Cockrum are all great choices to add in some drama and more unpredictable personalities. However, the performances of those feeding into the crime side of the story, do feel rather stereotypical.
Downeast successfully manages to avoid all the pitfalls of your typical indie crime drama, it leans more on the drama side and creates a humble, sweet, sentimental story about family, commitment and loyalty. Finley and Silver create earnest, relatable characters that are very easy to watch. It kicks things up a notch in its final moments and leaves you with a few questions, going for a more realistic ending than a rose-filtered Hollywood moment. Don’t be too quick to dismiss this film, it’s genuinely entertaining and holds a lot more promise than you might expect.