Share this article on Facebook
Share this article on Flipboard
Share this article on Email
Share this article on Linkedin
Share this article on Pinit
Share this article on Reddit
Share this article on Tumblr
Share this article on Whatsapp
Share this article on Comment
The basics of He went that way would seem to promise a film with curiosity, tension, volatility, and perhaps even the kind of unlikely bond that can arise from Stockholm Syndrome. Putting a famous animal trainer, serial killer, and chimp together in a station wagon headed across Route 66 in the turbulent mid-1960s suggests at least something edgy and compelling weirdness. Which makes it disappointing to report that, despite the best efforts of co-stars Jacob Elordi and Zachary Quinto, this ineffective true-crime road trip is entirely without peril.
The film was made by Jeffrey Darling, a respected veteran of the Australian industry, acclaimed for his work as cinematographer, music video director (for Crowded House) and, most importantly, as the author of award-winning international commercials for some of the the biggest brands in the world. In March 2022, his body was pulled from the ocean by lifeguards at the North Sydney beach where he had been surfing; paramedics were unable to revive him.
He went that way
It constantly goes in the wrong direction.
Place: Tribeca Film Festival (fiction spotlight)
Launch: Jacob Elardi. Zachary Quinto, Patrick J. Adams, Notary Pheonix, Ananyaa Shah
Director: Jeffrey Darling
Screenwriter: Evan M. Wiener, based on the book Luke Karamazovby Conrad Hilberry
1 hour and 35 minutes
No critic likes to bash a first feature, much less one whose director died shortly after principal photography was completed and never got to see the finished film. Perhaps Darling’s involvement in post-production might have helped mold something less toothless out of the material, though given Evan M. Wiener’s script, that seems doubtful.
The story was inspired by a real-life encounter where animal trainer Dave Pitts, while traveling across the country with his chimpanzee Spanky, picked up hitchhiker Larry Lee Ranes and soon realized he was sharing the front seat with a serial killer. The credits show interview footage of Pitts recalling the experience, along with a black-and-white newsreel of Spanky doing a skating routine in The Ice Capades.
A disclaimer points this out He went that way – a generic title meaning nothing in this context – is neither a documentary nor a biographical portrayal, it is not intended to accurately portray any character or situation depicted in the play. Yet slapping the words “This (mostly) really happened” into the opener, the filmmakers clearly want to have it both ways.
Wiener based his screenplay on Pitts’ short story and Conrad Hilberry’s book Luke Karamazov, a fictionalized retelling of the insane separate killings of Ranes and his younger brother Danny. But that’s at least one “inspired by” layer too many to give much credence to this “stranger than fiction” story. Instead, it plays like a tonally faltering blend of desert neo-noir, prickly buddy flick, geek character study, and crime thriller, with zero psychological underpinning and even less suspense. There is also a homoerotic undercurrent that may or may not be intended, but either way yields nothing of interest.
Setting the time to the summer of 1964, the voice-over narration plastered above the opening informs us that narrative makes us human and freedom is crap when you live your life on the road, warning us not to be too sure you get the idea. everything, because it’s complicated. But that banal hodgepodge feels like an afterthought, an attempt to add thematic complexity to a bafflingly boring footnote about American crime.
Elordi plays Ranes’ character, renamed Bobby, who is first seen driving down a dusty stretch of highway, chatting to a man slumped in the passenger seat with a bullet hole in his head. As Bobby dumps the body, the narrator takes us back to Death Valley, California a few weeks earlier.
Quinto plays animal handler Jim, who notices lanky young Bobby attempting to hitch a ride when he pulls up to an isolated gas station with car trouble. All we know about Jim at this point is that he is meticulously groomed, slightly uptight, and insensitive to his wife’s moodiness at home. So when he offers a ride to the archetypal shady drifter, dressed in regulation faded jeans and white T-shirt, the first assumption is sexual attraction. But that would be another film.
Bobby defensively answers Jim’s questions, revealing only that he has been discharged from the Air Force and is wandering around America. A quick contextual sketch draws a dying nation in the wake of the JFK assassination and the continuing riots in Vietnam, and stoic figures along the way appear at various points: a Native American, a poor boy in a shabby suit smoking a cigarette, an Amish couple… indicating this is a place of strangers, all glaring at each other. With a little more directorial control, it could even be a strange Lynchian landscape.
Until they’re on the road heading to New Mexico, Bobby realizes Spanky is in a cage out back. He’s happy to share a ride with a “celebrity,” since he’s seen the chimpanzee on variety television. But at their first stop, Bobby pulls a gun and roughs up Jim, threatening to kill both the trainer and the chimpanzee if he tries to call the police. A pitstop during which Jim attempts to use Bobby as muscle to force his drunken preacher brother-in-law Saul (Patrick J. Adams) to pay off a debt isn’t good either, and sounds like dramatic filler.
Jim’s final destination is Chicago, where he has booked a “private engagement” for Spanky, whose declining popularity has made it difficult to get gigs. He agrees to accompany Bobby all the way, with the tramp intending to hitch a ride to Milwaukee to reunite with his girlfriend. The apparent tension is built around whether the cantankerous Bobby will kill Jim, or whether the kind, thoughtful older man will tap into some remaining humanity under the nihilistic psychopath attitude.
Elordi and Quinto work hard to bring that uneasy dynamic to life, but the characters never feel real enough to give the film any juice.
Despite brief allusions to Bobby’s upbringing in an abusive home and occasional flashbacks to his point-blank killings, Elordi mostly suggests a would-be James Dean poser, even before Jim uses that comparison to endear him to a pair of Tulsa sisters (Alexandra and Nicolette Doke). And as Jim takes a sip from a bottle of Pepto Bismol, there’s never much sense of anxiety or dread in Quinto’s performance. Instead, Jim seems perversely masochistic in his willingness to relax by returning to the touring company with Bobby after each violent outburst.
As for Spanky, the combination of animatronics, puppets and a costumed actor doesn’t sound much more convincing than 1968 Planet of the Apes cast, making the chimpanzee a distraction, rather than its intended function as proof of friendship and trust, mirroring the changing relationship between Jim and Bobby.
He went that way it looks quite polished, with some nice sights like the neon-tinged night sky of an Albuquerque motel. (Southern California locations stand in for various spots on the map.) And Elordi gives a sneak peek at free moves that could be testing for his role as Elvis in the Sofia Coppola film Priscilla. But this is a film that drags on when it should be simmering. “Some endings are written before they begin,” says the closing narrative. Which might make you wonder why you wasted the last 90 minutes.