Review: ‘Brut Force’

A Modern Noir Set In California’s Wine Country That Stays True To Its Roots

Things are not going as planned for Sloane Sawyer (Lelia Symington) in Brut Force. Sloane had left Saint Lucas, the small rural Californian town where she grew up, with dreams of becoming a journalist. Those aspirations hit a minor roadblock as she has just been fired from her position as a reporter for an LA magazine. Serendipitously, right as she has a lot more free time, those close to her in Saint Lucas need her help. Marcos de los Santos (Julian Silva) calls and lets Sloane know about the harassment that the vineyard workers have been going through. From being stalked in the fields, to dead animals showing up in their beds, the workers are being targeted.

Although Saint Lucas reopens a painful chapter in her life, Sloane forges forward. She knows that she must do whatever she can to help the workers and expose who is behind the malice. Plus, it gives her a chance to put her investigative journalist skills to the test. Sloane’s father, Arthur Stendhal (Sidney Symington) owns the vineyard that employs the workers. To keep production up, Arthur is building new housing for them. The other residents in the community are completely opposed to this housing. With their racial biases shining through, they protest in the name of “safety”. It is no surprise when the housing literally goes up in flames – adding another thread to the web Sloane is trying to unweave.

The plot thickens when Tico Reyes (Tyler Posey) shows up looking for Dulce Lopez Castillo (Vico Escorcia). Dulce is Arthur’s right-hand woman and close to the family. When Dulce is nowhere to be found, everyone fears the worst. Shortly after, Mariela Vicuna (Patricia Velasquez) – a rival vineyard owner feuding with Arthur – pops up. Mariela’s motives being unclear only complicates matters. Sloane continues navigating past relationships, both positive and negative, on her hunt for the truth.

Brut Force is written and directed by Eve Symington, who happens to be Lelia’s sister. Eve has written and directed most of her prior work, however this is her feature length debut. Having control over the script and direction, and a relationship with the lead, is certainly an optimal situation for her first feature length film. Eve is a self-proclaimed cinephile who used her passion for classic noirs to shape the direction of Brut Force. Eve and her Director of Photography Emilie Silvestri effectively utilize stylistic elements from classic noirs in Brut Force. They do this all within the Californian landscapes known for their beauty, and not what is beneath the surface. They successfully take sunny California, and add dark and muted colors, representative of a dark side not known to many.

Brut Force has a lot of potential. The cinematography, setting, and Sloane’s character were primed to set the film apart. Unfortunately, Brut Force doesn’t fully deliver. Some pacing issues and the lack of those certain memorable scenes sprinkled throughout are ultimately it’s downfall. There were moments with lines delivered void of emotion – almost as if reading from a script and not acting. These moments take away from the complex atmosphere that Eve creates. The use of lighting and framing was impressive, adding an interesting perspective to the seedy world Sloane is plunged into. The score, filled with Hispanic tunes and ominous music, complement scenes perfectly. Eve Symington certainly has a bright future with a lot of positives seen in her direction and writing in Brut Force. Although the film doesn’t set itself apart or reinvent the wheel, it is worth a watch.