Billy Bob Thornton, Lisa Blount, Ray McKinnon, Harry Dean Stanton
Written and directed by Ray McKinnon
Cinematography by Adam Kimmel
kaBOOM! Entertainment 2005
106 minutes
Rated R

Chrystal is a stunning, brilliant (small budget) gothic noir movie. The opening credits alone should be taught to any independent filmmaker and most big studio directors. Director Ray McKinnon, who also plays Snake, immediately interests the viewer with a very simple and visually gorgeous opening told while the who’s who of this movie is rolling. Chrystal proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that low budget does not have to mean low quality and cheap effects and that a director and producers who know what they are doing and why they are doing it can achieve a brilliant movie, a noir drama, without having to come even close to breaking the bank.

The fact not one word is uttered in the first nine minutes or so of Chrystal but everything is, pardon the pun, crystal clear also shows telling a story is not that hard to do. Of course, McKinnon assumes the viewer is not an idiot and people can do a bit of thinking on their own. He also assumes, and rightly so, that if a movie is interesting you do not have to spell everything out for them in the first minutes and that if you tell a good story, and he does, the viewer will simply allow you to tell your story.

The premise of this movie is a man, Billy Bob Thornton (Joe) in yet another great and restrained performance, crashes his car during a police chase, killing his son –whose, in good gothic tradition, body was never found– and severely injuring his wife, Chrystal (played by Lisa Blount who delivers a stunning performance, sings like an angel, and is one of the producers). He comes back after twenty years in jail and wants to make things right. Of course, it is hard for any man to leave his checkered past behind and get forgiven for his mistakes.

Chrystal may be a serious and very moody movie but it does not mean you can’t have a few comic moments here and there. One of these involves the family dog, another has to do with the adventures of musicologist Kalid (Harry J. Lennix) and Barry (Johnny Galecki of Roseanne fame) driving around totally lost for a while. Yet another is the discomfort of some of the characters feel around Joe considering they have been using his wife.

Still, this movie has a dark redemption story to tell and McKinnon lets the pieces slowly fall together while managing to keep the audience interested in part by the Ozark music, the gorgeous shots of cinematographer Adam Kimmel, and also because of the many quirky but very believable characters than inhabit this noir drama with gothic overtones and a touch of magic realism.

Chrystal is definitely a keeper. If you rent it you’ll want to buy it so might as well cut to the chase and buy it in the first place. This is an absolutely gorgeous, intelligent, well-told, and fascinating movie with solid performances from everybody on board.

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