You don’t see enough Greek choruses anymore. At some point during the last millennia and a half, the Greek chorus fell out of favor. So one of the first delights in Blow the Man Down is realizing that this New England noir about unlikely femmes fatale comes with a Greek chorus. It opens with a bunch of sailors singing a rowdy sea shanty. They’ll be back, but not as often as I would have liked. And I’m not sure how relevant their sea shanties are to the narrative action. But I appreciate the idea, and it’s emblematic of how Blow the Man Down has some great ideas, even if it does struggle to present them.
The real delight of Blow the Man Down is how it expresses a New England fishing town as a place where the men went out to sea, leaving the women behind to actually run the politics that come with a small town. Which is also a port, and all that implies.
“A lot of men came through,” one of the women says to explain why there’s a whorehouse called Oceanview in this small town. “Not all of them were nice. So when Enid wanted to start Oceanview, we all…supported her.”
“By starting a whorehouse?” an incredulous young woman asks.
“By managing the situation,” she replies.
As things unravel — this is noir, after all — one of the women reminds the others how bad it was before Oceanview. “We all have stories,” she says.
The women suddenly stop talking. A man has walked into the room. One of their husbands.
“I dropped my fork,” he announces.
His wife hands him a fork. Having gotten his fork, he leaves the room. They resume the discussion. That’s the local men.
This story gives Blow the Man Down a range of substantive roles for women who don’t normally get substantive roles. Most memorable is the formidable Margot Martindale, who’s had a million and one thankless roles over the years. Now she gets some real meat to sink her teeth into, and she knows exactly what she’s doing. I wish I could say the same for first-time filmmakers Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. They’ve written one hell of a script, but some jagged direction and especially editing get in the way of some of their cast’s excellent work. Too many shots are of the wrong person at the wrong time.
But Cole and Krudy nail the pacing, casting, musical score, and local feel. It’s a bit of a glib comparison, but Blow the Man Down is what the Coen brothers would have made if their first movie had been Fargo instead of Blood Simple. But set in New England. And with a bit of a gothic family mystery lurking in the background. And interested mostly in the unique dynamic among the local women. Cole and Krudy may know their low-budget noir, but more importantly, they know how to make a movie unique.
Blow the Man Down