A Second Glance: ‘Whitewash’ (2013)

Ryan Covey

Popular Culture is an impossibly large and ever-growing thing.  It’s impossible to see everything and as a result, some things fall through the cracks.  Maybe critics panned it, maybe it was a commercial flop, maybe it just didn’t make a lasting connection at the time.  Whatever the case, these bits of pop cultural refuse are overdue for A Second Glance.

Last Time on A Second Glance: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)

Whitewash is Canadian dark comedy/drama that functions as a one-man show for Thomas Haden Church and it is magnificent.  Church is an extremely underrated actor who doesn’t get a lot of high-profile roles, despite the fact that he is well-known and has won many awards.  Whitewash is a tragic yet hilarious morality tale and a flawless film.

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The Plot

Bruce (Thomas Haden Chuch) is a snowplow driver in rural Quebec.  In the middle of a snowstorm, he hits a man with his plow and then buries him in a snowbank.  Bruce knows there are no witnesses, but being drunk and paranoid he drives off deep into the woods.  He awakens the next morning to find that he has run into a tree, immobilizing his plow.  The authorities have reported Bruce missing and so he decides to live in the plow to escape capture.  He attempts to eke out a living, slowly succumbing to guilt and insanity as the days pass.  As Bruce hides, he flashes back to the days leading up to the accident and his relationship with the deceased.

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Why Does it Deserve a Second Glance?

Whitewash is a character study of one man with two very different sides to his personality.  When Bruce enters the film we see him kill a man and hide his body.  A liquor bottle rolls around the floor of Bruce’s plow and he takes money out of the wallet of the dead man.  The audience’s first impressions of him are going to be less than charitable and he doesn’t get better.

The days go on and Bruce’s behavior becomes more desperate and unhinged.  As he descends into madness, flashbacks show us a different picture of a sad widower who did a kind deed for a complete stranger.  Bruce stopped a suicide attempt by a man named Paul and the two became friends.  The film reveals how Paul wound up on that snowy road in the middle of the night and also Bruce isn’t the monster we think he is.  Furthermore, it’s apparent that Bruce is a much harsher judge of himself than the police could ever be.  The plow is as much a prison as a hideout and he is punishing himself as much as evading capture.

Whitewash is tragically beautiful and darkly comedic.  The tone of the film echoes the quieter works of the Coen Brothers and Cormac McCarthy’s more farcical stories.  Thomas Haden Church gives one of the greatest performances of his career.  Matt is a multifaceted character with a tremendous amount of depth and Church portrays that quality flawlessly.  That Church can play this character largely without the aid of other actors is a testament to his tremendous skill and talent.  Due to a strong script, acting, and directing, Whitewash is a triumph.  This is a rare “perfect” film.

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