This blood-is-thicker-than-water melodrama, A Violent Separation, presents itself as a study in the ties that bind, a familial tale that is unfortunately all too familiar. In it, a cop brother named Norman (Brenton Thwaites, “Gods of Egypt”) helps his shadier brother named Ray (Ben Robson, “The Boy”) out of a particularly horrible jam, with each brother and their families forever haunted by the act. The leads are earnest but dull, particularly in contrast with supporting players like Claire Holt, Alycia Debnam-Carey, and Ted Levine, and the storyline feels like it’s stuck in traffic.
Norman is a deputy in a small Texas town, serving under Sheriff Ed Quinn (Levine, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”). He grew up in the area, went off to join the military, and has returned a quiet and introspective young man. In his past, he was sweet on Frances Campbell (Debnam-Carey, “Friend Request”), whose daddy Tom (Gerald McRaney, “Focus”) owns a big ranch and on whose property which Norman and his brother Ray live, in a trailer. But now, back in his toddlin’ town, Norman isn’t outwardly interested in Frances, who notices the difference and confides in her sister Abbey (Holt, “47 Meters Down”), who’s long had an off-and-on thing with Ray. Ray, a disheveled ne’er-do-well with the fashion sense of an old potato, also has a rather open thing going on with bartender El Camino (Francesca Eastwood, “The Vault”), who kind of wants him all to herself.
Got all that?
One early morning, Abbey and Ray drive out into the woods, pretty much the middle of nowhere. Abbey’s still drunk from the previous night, spent at the local watering hole, and she’s armed with a gun she snagged from her dad’s desk. Abbey wants Ray to teach her how to shoot, and she’s angsty about any number of things. They quarrel (Abbey playfully points the gun at Ray a few times), and after a quick tussle, Ray gets the gun. And then the car hits a pothole, and blam.
I’m telling you all of this not to spoil the movie, but to lay down the setting for the main thrust of the plot. Ray hikes back to a payphone and calls his brother, who’s naturally appalled, but who offers to help his sibling cover up the tragedy, as is standard operating procedure for melodramatic noir films. In this case, Norman’s decision to help is complicated by his relationship to Frances and her father. After the cover-up, in which Norman and Ray lie to the sheriff and to Abbey’s sister and dad, Norman becomes closer to Frances, marrying her in short order. Now, you’d think that Norman, the by-the-book lawman who’s also served his country, would be the one whose moral compass would always point north, the one who might find some everlasting conflict arise from his helping Ray out. But no! In a slight deviation from the aforementioned standard operating procedure, it’s not. Someone else feels such eternal torment that it eats at them endlessly from the inside. Any guess who it may be?
In the previous paragraph, I used such words as “endlessly,” “eternal,” and “everlasting.” And that, unfortunately, is how I would describe A Violent Separation. The plot is a well worn path, and the actors and writer (Michael Arkof) do the audience no favors in terms of creativity. The film presents a dreary tone and is replete with clichés that are common not only to the noir and western genres but really to most other genres as well. Of the cast, only the veterans McRaney and Levine shine; the rest feel like caricatures delivering some bland and blasé line readings. Without the gravitas lent by those two actors, A Violent Separation would have been even more somnambulant. Even so, viewers will likely tire of waiting for something, anything to happen for much of the latter three-quarters of the film.