Jack Durant was an Arizona legend. His restaurant in Central Phoenix, Durant's, is suffused with stories of the man; full of colorful characters claiming to know the true account behind the eatery's namesake.
Or so Durant's Never Closes, the new feature film from writer/director and fellow Arizonan Travis Mills, taught me. I had personally never heard of the infamous Jack Durant- Phoenix isn't quite the land of exchanging colorful legends nowadays- but from what I've garnered from further research (read: googling his name) on the late Durant, it makes sense that a budding filmmaker would choose him for a cinematic character study.
Durant's Never Closes doesn't feel like a character study for much of its runtime, however. Though there is a lot of promising talent on display here, particularly where some of the technical aspects of filmmaking are concerned, the film is as jumpy as its lead performance: it rapidly oscillates between a dedicated tone and narrative disarray.
The most blatant presence in the movie is that of Tom Sizemore's, who plays the eponymous restaurant owner. Unfortunately, he seems borderline schizophrenic as he mumbles through most of his dialogue like he's racing to the end of each sentence. His physical movements are manic and his dedication to character is inconsistent.
I've only seen a few of his other roles (he had decently prominent appearances in Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, among others), but I saw a lot more Tom Sizemore than I did Jack Durant throughout Durant's Never Closes. He still fares better than various minor roles: some actors and actresses managed to be horrid in only a few short lines. The other recognizable faces of Michelle Stafford and Peter Bogdanovich provide much needed relief on the acting side of the proceedings.
Sizemore's performance is somewhat a microcosm for the whole film. The story is unapologetically messy. The narrative framework covers a single night at Durant's, but there's so much intercutting of flashbacks and drawn out visual symbols (inexplicably, what I believe was a representation of Jack Durant's past takes place entirely in the empty Arizona desert, decorated with a few set dressings here and there) and pieces of an occasionally weighty subplot that it's hard to tell how or why any given moment started or ended. The context tends to be either missing or quickly flashing by in a restaurant table conversation.
Movies that successfully eschew traditional chronological order usually do so with an evident purpose. Pulp Fiction's story is decidedly all over the place, but the narrative beats are arranged in such a way that themes of sinful indulgence, consequences, and redemption are still developed and deliberately paced. During Durant's Never Closes, clapping at every narrative beat would produce quite the frenetic rhythm. The purpose of developing Jack Durant as a human is lost between all the details about his life tossed to and fro. It doesn't help that the editing is choppy as well.
The last act of the film does fare better in this area, however. When Durant settles down for a lengthy conversation/flashback with his ex-wife, we get a slowly unfolding breath of fresh air that begins to strip away the mysterious layers of Durant. This sequence seems like it's meant to promote a more immediately emotional response, but it instead serves to finally give us room to start getting to know Durant as a person. The rest of Durant's Never Closes benefits from this change of pace, despite the unfitting ending twist.
Even if we don't get to know Jack Durant especially well, we do get to know Durant's, thanks to the aforementioned promising talent. Mills' direction suggests a knowledgeable respect for the material, and he imbues the setting with just enough stylistic subtleties to create an exciting, lively tone. Camera frames are filled expertly, the score is never intrusive but always effective, and the color grading feels like an old friend by the movie's end. The dialogue does dip its toes into the cliché a little less than frequently, but otherwise it's all clever anecdotes and natural conversation.
Despite its weaknesses, Durant's Never Closes discloses the existence of a hopeful talent in filmmaker Travis Mills. If you're an Arizona native like Jack Durant and I, the film opens the morning of January 22nd at the Shea in Scottsdale. It's always a good idea to support up-and-coming indie voices.