Directed by Aharon Keshales, from a script he co-wrote with Kai Mark and Navot Papushado, South of Heaven is a noir-ish tale of redemption mixed with the ever-popular ‘one last job’ plotline.
Jimmy (Jason Sudeikis), a convicted felon, gets early parole after serving twelve years for armed robbery, vowing to give his dying girlfriend Annie (Evangeline Lilly) the best last year of her life. However, when he is given a job from his parole officer (Shea Whigham), a series of events are put in motion that leaves Jimmy being pursued by a local crime boss (Mike Colter).
The performances in South of Heaven – at least those of Sudeikis, Whigham, and Colter – are solid, if unflashy. All three of the principal leads interact with each other superbly, and have this sense of quietly-simmering rage and/or frustration underneath their otherwise placid facades. The rest of cast is basically window dressing to which the leads address their monologues. The film really hangs its hat on the individual addressing another individual, repeatedly.
It makes for a great scene whilst in the moment, but the repetitive nature of the monologues grows tiresome. Such is the same for the visual palette with which the film works, because holy shit is this South of Heaven a desaturated picture. It's all sepia for the most part, although there are some exceptional exceptions: early on, a scene at a salvage yard is shot sparingly with a wide shot, and it's absolutely stunning. It's such a pure use of dark and light, it could evoke a story in and of itself.
The same goes for the one-shot tracking gun battle in which Sudeikis moves through Colter's home near the film's climax. It demonstrates just how talented the crew behind this picture is, as it really ratchets up some tension at the very end, with a very simple – but superbly choreographed – run and gun.
That said, it's a movie that allows Sudeikis a chance to play it straight next to some other gents who know how to be creepy and intimidating without chewing scenery. The story unfolds with a series of twists and turns, wherein things go from good to bad, to worse really quickly, but while the panic is there, it's a quiet panic. Nobody here wants to end up back in jail, nor lose whatever precarious stability they currently have, so a full-scale freak-out isn't possible. Thus, terror is gritted teeth and widened eyes, rather than any raised voices or physical distress.
South of Heaven is available on VOD in the US.