Moving Pictures
Apr 12, 2024, 06:27AM

LaRoy, Texas is a Nice New Neo-Noir

Would this movie be possible without the example of the Coen brothers? Probably not. But Shane Atkinson had the sense to steal from the best.

Steve zahn in laroy texas.jpeg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Like many modern neo-noir movies, LaRoy, Texas, is heavily influenced by the work of Joel and Ethan Coen. Even beyond the part where it lifts plot elements from Blood Simple, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski, it borrows Coen tropes that we’ve seen across their filmography. There’s a put-upon husband, non-criminals pulled into criminal situations, and kidnapping plots real and staged.

LaRoy, Texas, however, is better than most Coen knockoffs because it’s exceptionally well-cast and offers impressive, multi-faceted characterizations. None of the four main actors—John Magaro, Steve Zahn, Dylan Baker and Brad Leland—have ever worked with the Coens, but they all look like they’d fit right in if they did.

The film was directed by Shane Atkinson in his debut and premiered last year at Tribeca under the shorter title LaRoy. Yet despite the “Texas” in the title, it was filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like Walter White of Breaking Bad, which was also shot in Albuquerque, Ray (Magaro) begins the events of LaRoy, Texas as a put-upon sad sack.

His ex-beauty pageant queen wife (Megan Stevenson) hates him. He co-owns a hardware store with his slickster brother (Matthew Del Negro), who walks all over him. Still, he holds the naive belief that if he can come up with some money, he’ll be able to get his horrible brother and even worse wife to respect him. One day, he’s approached by a private detective named Skip (Zahn), who shows him photos of Ray’s wife at what looks like an assignation in a motel. Why is Skip doing this when Ray didn’t hire him?

That’s just the start of a convoluted plot that entails Ray getting mistaken for a hitman, figuring out what his wife’s really up to, and getting pulled into the financial machinations of a car dealer (Leland) and his wife. It’s one of those towns where everyone’s either having an affair, running a scam, or combining the two into a blackmail plot.

The other central character is Harry (Baker), playing another familiar Coen type, a violent chaos agent who stalks the margins of the plot. The atmosphere is half the fun. The fictional town is well-presented and is believable as a Texas town despite the geographical sleight of hand. Again and again, the plot returns to each character trying to be a bigger man than he actually is. Magaro, who appears to have gained weight for the role, is compelling as a Costanza-level sad sack. In last year’s Past Lives, his wife only considered leaving him. Zahn’s even better, as a wonderful character, a struggling private detective who presents himself as a cowboy-hatted, bolo-tied Texas alpha. In reality, he’s not only not great at being a detective, but he spends most of his days getting bullied by local cops.

Baker, always great at playing psychos, is also a joy, while Leland once again plays a car dealer in a small Texas town as he did on Friday Night Lights. And Stevenson and Del Negro are both wonderfully oily as the main tormentors. Would this movie be possible without the example of the Coen brothers? Probably not. But Shane Atkinson had the sense to steal from the best.


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