When I saw the new thriller/teen love story Mean Dreams in Cannes last May, I had no idea that when I would be reviewing it at release time one of its stars, Bill Paxton, would no longer be with us. But sadly, Paxton passed away last month due to complications from heart surgery. At 61, it was much too soon, and his death put a hole in the heart of Hollywood. As I say in my video review above, he left behind not only his new CBS series Training Day, now playing off its 13-episode order, but also two unreleased movies including Mean Dreams, which opens Friday in limited release. (The other, The Circle co-starring Tom Hanks, is scheduled for the end of April.)
Paxton, so good in so many different kinds of role in movies like Apollo 13, Titanic and Twister, as well as TV projects like Big Love and Hatfields & McCoys, again demonstrates his ability to play almost anything. He goes deeply evil as the corrupt cop and abusive and drunken father of 15-year-old Casey (Sophie Nelisse) in the noirish Mean Dreams, which combines a Romeo and Juliet kind of contemporary love story between two teenagers with a Badlands-style on-the-run thriller. The move is almost of two halves, but each are satisfying, and director Nathan Morlando niftily keeps the tone intact throughout, letting Paxton play pure badness without ever going over the top, and getting two terrific performances from his young leads.
Josh Wiggins plays Jonas, a kid who also does not have the best home life, who strikes up a touching relationship with Casey who has recently moved into the sparsely populated neighborhood. The film details their emerging connection as they experience young love, which eventually gets much more complicated than they may have anticipated. Sensing Casey’s dire circumstance with her father, Jonas impulsively steals her Dad’s bag of illegal drug money and convinces the girl to go on the run with him for a new life they can start by using the stolen cash. In no time, Wayne Caraway (Paxton) is in pursuit of the pair as is the sheriff (Colm Feore) in a chase you just know could not end well. It’s to the credit of Morlando and writers Kevin Coughlin and Ryan Grassby that there are twists and turns where we aren’t at all sure how this will wind up.
Watching Paxton play pure evil is to just be reminded of his exceptional range, never stereotyping this corrupt cop and keeping us off balance. It helps as well to have two fine young actors fronting the movie and pulling it all off with seeming ease. The film, which premiered in the 2016 Directors’ Fortnight competition in Cannes, earned every bit of the praise it won there and deserves to be seen — not just as an accomplished dramatic thriller that it is, but also as a tribute to the enduring and all too sadly now lost talents of Bill Paxton. At least we still have films like this to remind us just how good he was.
William Woods and Allison Black produced, and Vertical Entertainment is the U.S. distributor. Do you plan to see Mean Dreams? Let us know what you think.