The dark crime flick was a staple of 70s cinema. The criminal underbelly had always been an exciting sight to explore. The post-code 1970s allowed sex, drugs, and violence to rise to new levels. Yet by 2023, the genre has fallen to the fascination of indie filmmakers. Still, when a director weaves a tight thread of intrigue, few genres can excite as effectively. Blood for Dust is not only one of those movies but immediately rises to the upper tier of 2023 crime flicks.
After losing his job, Cliff (Scoot McNairy) needs money fast. His son is sick, and without treatment, the boy will die. He joins up with a former partner, Ricky (Kit Harrington), on a drug and gun run. Posing as a salesman, Cliff runs drugs and guns for a local crime boss (Josh Lucas). However, when things go sideways, Cliff needs to make it right and survive to help his son.
McNairy showcases his talent in projects where he plays reluctant criminals. He brings an unpredictable energy that makes him a perfect fit for this world. While he appears to follow a code, there’s a volatility to his performance that you cannot ignore. His ever-shifting allegiances key the audience into a potential turn, yet he shows just enough charisma to make everyone believe he’s on their side. His pathos and mission make us want to root for his actions, regardless of what it means for Blood for Dust’s other characters.
Harrington gives his best performance in years. While the Game of Thrones alum has struggled to convert to movies, he brings his action chops to this feature and fits in perfectly. He plays Ricky well, embodying the workaday criminal type. Still, he vibrates with ambition to take control. His wildcard energy makes his plan clear from the start but also speaks to his ability to connect that others believe him at his word.
Director Rob Blackhurst plants us in the grimy world of underground crime. Double crosses and paranoia rule the corner of the world for these men. Even as they attempt to move on to legitimate business, their past catches up with them. Their cyclical and systemic predicament forces them back to breaking laws and making new enemies.
David Ebeltoft’s screenplay shares a tonal similarity to Andrew Dominick’s Killing Them Softly. While that feature features a strong political message, Blackhurst has our characters retreat into survival mode. There were more directions the story could head in its final act, but the existing version features a brilliant finale. It helps Blood for Dust stick the landing and should earn plaudits over the next few months.