Long Gone By: An Emotionally Resonate Thriller
We’ve got the early insight into writer/director Andrew Morgan’s feature debut, Long Gone By, which is set to premiere at HBO's New York Latino Film Festival on August 17, 2019 (more info here). Understated and emotionally raw, Long Gone By is an intimately unnerving portrait of a woman willing to sacrifice everything to give her daughter the chance at a life she never had.
Ana Alvarez (Erica Muñoz) is a single mother from Nicaragua living in Northern Indiana with her teenage daughter, Izzy (Izzy Hau’ula). When a routine check in leads to a deportation order, life as Ana knows it ends. The timing could not be worse as Izzy has just been accepted to Indiana University. Faced with an impossible reality of a lifetime away from her daughter, Ana decides to risk everything in a last chance effort to leave Izzy’s tuition paid before her time runs out.
Long Gone By, which takes its name from the Kenneth Rexroth poem “Airs and Angels: This Night Only,” wastes no time and drops the viewer into its events straightaway. In the opening scene, our protagonist, Ana, a Nicaraguan immigrant, finds out she’s getting deported in two weeks time — the reason for which is murky — and needs to make arrangements for her daughter Izzy, who’s about to graduate high school at the top of her class. To add to the stakes, Izzy also just got accepted to a good university, but Ana doesn’t have the financial means to assist her. Driven to the edge, Ana turns to crime — specifically bank robbery — to help ensure her daughter gets the future she deserves before she’s deported.
As Ana turns to drastic measures, Izzy is busy just being a teenager. We see her at school as she awardly flirts with boys. We see she’s a good kid; she helps her mom out with her second job cleaning people’s houses and tutors other kids from school. She’s in that early-life stage where the future holds so much promise, and she’s full of excitement for the bright future college will provide, totally unaware of the extent at which her mother is going to ensure this possibility. Her story provides a nice contrast to Ana’s dilemma. Her scenes are lathered thick in romanticism, which are doubly enhanced by Duncan Blickenstaff’s phenomenal score, and represent the freedom and opportunity an American life affords young people; whereas, Ana’s is about the pressures and lengths one has to go in an attempt to keep it.
Long Gone By feels like Hell or High Water meets Good Time in the style of The Rider, complete with flourishes in the vein of Gus Van Sant and Jeff Nichols. Everything is grounded in palpable sense of reality and presented in a very soft, understated, and intimate way. Morgan effectively puts us into the characters’ situation. If we’re not following the them from behind, literally walking in their shoes in a very Alan Clarke/Gus Van Sant way, we’re focused on the their face as they take in or react to their environment. His directing style is simplistic, leaning into the docu-realist, with steady handheld camera adding an extra layer to the atmosphere’s authenticity.
The film’s location, cinematography, and central performances further enhance the narrative’s grip. Set and shot on location in Warsaw, Indiana, the rural Midwestern town serves as a nice backdrop and gives the film a distive look and feel. The scenery is vibrantly brought to life through Lance Kuhns’ beautiful cinematography that draws rich colors and does wonders with soft focus. At the center of it all is Erica Muñoz and Izzy Hau’ula, both of which give strong performances. Muñoz, in particular is a quiet powerhouse, showing with her body what words just couldn’t do justice; you can see in her eyes that there’s a lot boiling under the surface.
There’s some murky elements (like the specifics behind Ana’s deportation) that are a little too vague than they should, and there are several moments that could benefit from more tension (like the bank robbery scenes, which aren’t really met with any complication). Gradually, it raises its pulse and tightens its grip, but it never really reaches the overwhelming extremes it ought to; I wanted to feel the weight of Ana’s situation, all its claustrophobia and panic. Some of that is there — like Ana narrowly escaping the police in a bar and the last robbery attempt — but for the most part, it remains fairly quiet and restrained. Other than wanting it to bare its teeth and roar, it’s a very engaging and emotionally resonate thriller that promotes heathy discussion through its topical subject matter.
Rating: 4 peaceful bike rides outta 5.
What do you think? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!