Review: ‘He Went That Way’

A Magnetic Jacob Elordi Can't Save Clumsy Crime Film About A Serial Killer, An Animal Trainer, And A Chimp

With his James Dean good looks, Jacob Elordi would seem to be the perfect actor to embody a chain-smoking, jean jacket-wearing, hitchhiking enigma in the turbulent 1960s. Well, enigma probably isn’t the right word. He’s a serial killer in Jeffrey Darling’s new film, He Went That Way, based on a preposterous but true account involving said serial killer, a celebrity animal trainer, and his star chimp, during a fraught road trip down Route 66.  And Elordi is indeed perfect for the role, at times captivating, charming, and volatile.  It’s only a shame the film Elordi is so good in doesn’t level up to his talents.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time beating up on this one. Darling was a respected industry veteran in the Australian filmmaking scene. He Went That Way was his directorial debut, completed after his untimely death in 2022 after a surfing accident. So I’m not inclined to dump all over his directorial debut, the only feature that will ever be to his credit.

The film is based on a wild account by animal trainer Dave Pitts, here referred to as Jim Goodwin and played with maximum timidity by Zachary Quinto. The story goes that he was on the road with his celebrity performing chimp, Spanky, and he picked up Larry Lee Ranes, a serial killer regarded in the movie as Bobby Falls, played by Elordi. It doesn’t take Jim long to figure out that he’s driving around a lunatic who can be set off at any moment. But this is the summer of ’64, and as the opening narration tells us, hitting the road is all about freedom and going where life leads you. Darling gets the almost mythical quality of the road experience down to a tee; lots of roadside gas stations, diners, the sound of rock ‘n roll, all under sunkissed skies and backed by desert landscapes.

This little buddy road trip is fraught from the beginning. Bobby doesn’t take long to rob Jim of his stuff, holding him at gunpoint. And yet the ride continues, with Jim experiencing what can only be described as a form of Stockholm Syndrome. In the beginning, he stayed with Bobby out of fear that he might hurt Spanky, but later they form some kind of weird bond. Never mind that Bobby frequently holds a gun to Jim’s face, shoves him into the animal cage, gags him, threatens to kill him and Spanky…y’know, things a friend would do.

The tone is just plain bizarre, and some of that might have to do with Darling and screenwriter Evan M. Wiener trying to have it every which way. We’re told that this is neither meant to be a biopic or a documentary, but they also want us to believe that most of what’s being presented is true. That’s clearly not the case since the crimes don’t match up and there are obvious attempts at oddball comedy. Perhaps adapting Conrad Hilberry’s book, Luke Karamazov, a fictionalized account of Larry Lee Ranes, was the wrong choice to make. An example of the film going too far out of its depth involves a pit stop where Jim confronts his brother-in-law, Saul (Patrick J. Adams, a welcome surprise), a shady preacher living in a trailer with a little girl who does not appear to be his daughter. Saul owes Jim money but won’t pay. Some verbal sparring over religion and freedom ensues before Bobby starts making things worse, but it all comes across as just words tossed against a wall. The encounter means nothing, adds nothing.

It’s also possible that choices made after Darling’s death impacted the overall presentation of the movie, which feels scattered at best. Quinto’s performance, with his questionable Midwestern accent, does little to have us sympathize with Jim, who is rather bland and pathetic. We care more about Spanky, who is played by an actor with some animatronic effects that can be distracting. It’s just sad that the chimp is being dragged through this Hellish tour with a couple of humans who appear to barely be at his intellectual level. At least Bobby has charisma on his side. Even though he’s a loose cannon and a murderer, Bobby almost comes across as someone we can feel sorry for turning out the way he did. Almost. Ultimately, despite Elordi’s magnetic presence, He Went That Way drags when it should smolder, wasting a chance to bring such a fascinating true story to vivid life.

He Went That Way is in theaters now and hits VOD on January 12th.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
He Went That Way
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-he-went-that-wayWith his James Dean good looks, Jacob Elordi would seem to be the perfect actor to embody a chain-smoking, jean jacket-wearing, hitchhiking enigma in the turbulent 1960s. Well, enigma probably isn't the right word. He's a serial killer in Jeffrey Darling's new film, He...