Straight Shootin’ and Bare Bones Are All Blood for Dust Has to Offer

Movies Reviews Scoot McNairy
Straight Shootin’ and Bare Bones Are All Blood for Dust Has to Offer

Rod Blackhurst’s Blood for Dust is the uncomplicated definition of a character study. There’s nothing groundbreaking about its themes or story. The picturesque “American Dream” becomes a rural, class-crunching nightmare about staying afloat by any means necessary. Blackhurst’s horror background as co-director of Night Swim (the short) and director of Here Alone doesn’t play into the gritty textural delivery of Blood for Dust, but terror isn’t a missing ingredient. He’s mostly capable and successful behind the camera, much like the film itself—mostly capable and successful.

Scoot McNairy stars as traveling salesman Cliff, at a crossroads, downtrodden and desperate. Enter Ricky (Kit Harington), an old colleague who opens the door to his illegal operations dealing anything from firearms to narcotics. Cliff’s unfortunate circumstances—a sick child with mounting hospital bills—steer him towards Rick’s offer despite the muck-up of their last endeavor. How long can Cliff pursue financial goals by lawful means and be left struggling before Rick’s opportunity becomes his family’s best chance?

Where movies like Jim Mickle’s Cold in July and Rose Glass’ Love Lies Bleeding provide invigorated riffs on stories people would call “Fargo meets [X],” Blood for Dust bucks no trends. Blackhurst and writer David Ebeltoft couldn’t shoot straighter. Cliff is presented as a churchgoing man who busts his hump selling defibrillators for a shady company—he plays by the rules. Yet, Cliff can’t comfortably afford medical attention for his ailing offspring. Of course he turns towards criminal means. Of course he finds himself tangled in Ricky’s reckless practices. Of course Blackhurst digs into the depressing reality of Cliff’s risky business. There’s never an attempt to surprise the audience, which can make the experience rather one-note.

On the other hand, Blackhurst’s cast keeps the rudimentary stateside commentary moving forward—hinged on the possible death of an at-wits-end salesman. It’s not just about McNairy’s vagabond schlub drinking in dingy pitstop bars to celebrate a meager sale in sad solitude. Harington does a fine job as his looser partner, who isn’t afraid to let gunfire ring loudly throughout the isolation of highway stop-offs. Josh Lucas, Ethan Suplee and Stephen Dorff all lend their talents to varying levels of underworld figures with varying dedications to handlebar mustache and goatee combinations. There’s no slouch in the cast, whether that’s Lucas imposing his status as a no-gruff boss or Suplee eyeing possible threats as McNairy’s appointed guard dog.

Blood for Dust is “simple” in every sense of the word. It’s underwhelming when viewed as a big picture that’s bookended by the overt and non-challenging assertion that the American Dream is a mess. It’s also primarily successful at being precisely what Blackhurst and his team sell: A dangerous agreement in the name of Cliff’s salvation. There’s something propulsive about Nick Bohun’s incessant score that doesn’t let Cliff catch his breath (sound effects pant over the chanting rhythms). Justin Derry’s cinematography captures all the serenity of gravel roads where gunfire hits like sonic bullets shot by sound designers. Blackhurst offers what’s on the tin, not without competence, but your appreciation will boil down to how you feel about this barebones execution.

Blood for Dust is a satisfactory interpretation of American hardships and making ends meet, one that’s been done plenty better and worse elsewhere. Blackhurst proves himself a workman behind the camera, albeit hindered by an elementary screenplay that feels like a first draft. Honestly and truly, it’s fine. I know that’s not the enthusiasm or disdain a critic might usually bring to a review, but most movies are plain ol’ alright, and that’s the reality of this gig. Blood for Dust fits that inoffensive and palatable classification relatively well, which doesn’t make a splash—although it’ll provide plenty of solid material for Blackhurst’s directorial sizzle reel.

Director: Rod Blackhurst
Writers: David Ebeltoft
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Kit Harington, Josh Lucas.
Release Date: April 19, 2024

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Critics Choice Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.

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