Film Review: Sweet Virginia

Film November 17, 2017 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

In the opening moments of Sweet Virginia, the new indie crime film starring Jon Bernthal (The Punisher, The Walking Dead), a young man walks into a diner and attempts to order a late dinner.  The proprietor is playing poker with a couple of his buddies and politely informs him they are closed.  After some resistance, the man is forcibly removed from the diner.  Moments later, the would-be patron re-enters the diner with gun blazing, killing everyone. Is it a rage killing? A robbery? Or is there more to the situation than meets the eye?

These are not spoilers. Sweet Virginia is not a whodunit.  We know the identity of the killer in the first five minutes of the film.  Instead, Sweet Virginia focuses on the aftermath of the violence, its ripple effect on the community. The murders have a long reach, revealing secrets simmering under the surface of an innocent-looking small town. All is not as it seems, and the film slowly peels back the narrative layers to reveal the events  and motives that led to the murders and served as the catalysts for the events that follow.

The film avoids typical genre tropes and chooses instead to explore the sins, frailties and internal conflicts that cause the everyday violence in our society. Each character is engaged in his or her inner tug-of-war between what is right and what they want.  Even Elwood, the killer who sets everything in motion, has an unexpected moment of mercy that factors heavily into the outcome of the film. The motivation for all of the characters is desire, their need for money, power, sex, love.

With Sweet Virginia, the devil is in the details. Even veteran fans of crime films will be surprised as certain pieces snap surprisingly, but convincingly, into place.  However, to the film’s credit, it is not a crime procedural or based inside any kind of investigation. Sweet Virginia finds its momentum in its characters. Their vices, insecurities and failures drive the story. It’s a rural noir in the vein of Jeremy Saulnier’s 2013 indie revelation, Blue Ruin.

Every week the VOD market is flooded with shoddy crime films and thrillers populated by paper-thin characters going through the usual motions. Those titles offer nothing more than over-the-top violence and melodrama falsely packaged as something profound. Sweet Virginia is not such a film. With its keen visual sense and subtle performances, Sweet Virginia is a clear cut above the competition.

Sweet Virginia opens in select cities and hits VOD platforms on Friday, November 17, 2017.

Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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