Road to Nowhere: Old Master Monte Hellman Still Has Some Life in Him

At his peak (Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter), Monte Hellman superbly combined an absurdist worldview and snapshot-authentic Middle America. But rather than rehashing past hits, the 79-year-old Hellman has ranged out with Road to Nowhere, his first new film in 22 years. With an almost quaint self-reflexiveness but state-of-the-art digital filmmaking, Road concerns the production of a film based on a controversial lovers’ double suicide in North Carolina. Director Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan) is determined to cast a young undiscovered (Shannyn Sossamon) as his lead—unaware that she’s actually the True Crime character’s real-life inspiration, living incognito after faking her death. Sossamon, with her geometric elegance and placid voice, is a captivating muse—especially good are her scenes running lines with co-star Cliff De Young. While juggling Mitchell and his star’s on-set affair, the interference of a conspiracy-minded blogger (Dominique Swain) and a rockabilly insurance investigator (Waylon Payne), and sundry international intrigues, Road remains a purposefully immobile, downbeat “thriller.” The screenplay (by Variety editor Steven Gaydos) combines a working knowledge of on-set dynamics with corny cinephile in-joking, frequently elevated by the fresh evidence of Hellman’s craft in the tranquil, largely nocturnal atmosphere—until the closing-credits song ruins everything.