‘Lake George’ Review: Shea Whigham And Carrie Coon Spark In A Satisfying Old-School L.A. Noir – Tribeca Festival

Elmore Leonard — cinematically, perhaps the most influential writer of the 20th century whose name never gave rise to an adjective — casts a long shadow over Jeffrey Reiner’s Lake George, a satisfying L.A. noir that follows his legacy almost to the letter. There’s no chiaroscuro here, nothing bad happens even remotely in darkness, but there’s a moral shading that Leonard would most likely enjoy. For some reason, though, these sunshine-crime stories never seem to stick like their shadowy counterparts do, which means that Lake George might have to wait a while before it finds out where it sits in the whole noir canon.

Reiner’s script leans into a lot of traditional crime-movie tropes, and it begins with an ambiguous one: Don (Shea Whigham), a middle-aged divorcé, has just been released from jail after 10 years inside. But for what? Don doesn’t seem the type, and his first calls on the outside, after phoning his ex-wife (who doesn’t pick up), are to get himself a job. Nothing is forthcoming, however, since Don’s legit business contacts are either insolvent or dead. Which is why he goes back to Armen (Glenn Fleshler), the gang boss he did the time for, visiting him at his palatial house in Glendale, where he lives with bodyguard Harout (Max Casella).

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Don thinks Armen owes him money for his silence, and Armen is surprised. “I didn’t think you had the balls to come here and ask for it,” he says. “You must be hitting the track again,” he adds, alluding to a gambling problem. Armen, though, is sympathetic, offering to pay Don what he thinks he’s owed — but for a price.

Armen has a problem that he needs to go away: his partner, Phyllis (Carrie Coon), a woman he bonded with over drugs, whom he trusted with his enterprise but, though she’s “good with numbers,” now knows too much. The mild-mannered Don refuses point blank, saying he’s no killer, but Armen lays it on the line: “Anybody is capable of anything if they’re desperate enough.”

Don takes the job, because he’ll be whacked if doesn’t, and gets kitted out with a car, a phone and a .45 pistol (the zip-ties are on the house) at Armen’s local garage. He starts to stake out Phyllis, finally cornering her in the parking lot beneath her swanky apartment, forcing her into his car and driving her out into the desert. It’s no spoiler to reveal that he is unable to follow through, however, since we know by now that Don is not that kind of guy and Carrie Coon is really not the kind of actress that you kill off in the first half hour.

This inspired, ’70s-style pairing will keep Lake George motoring for quite some time while Don tries to figure out his plan. Phyllis is a motormouth, pumping Don for useful information while revealing plenty of her own turbulent life with Armen (“I thought I was a coke fiend. Nose like a Dyson!”). Reiner gets into his neo-noir groove here, as Phyllis starts to practice her dark arts on Don, presumably just as she did with Armen. And, let’s face it, she’s called Phyllis, like Double Indemnity’s Phyllis Dietrichson, the most fatale-est of femmes in the known noir universe.

Coon, however, isn’t quite going for Barbara Stanwyck’s steely edge, and what’s interesting about the film — at least for genre fans — is how these two actors will fill the archetypal roles given them. Is Whigham just a patsy, and will Phyllis walk all over him? Reiner has a lot of fun with that power structure, with a macabre playfulness that will be familiar to admirers of Fargo (the film and the series).

Lake George may not abide by all of Leonard’s rules (he told the New York Times, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it,” and much of Reiner’s film, the dialogue in particular, sounds an awful lot like writing). But it does put depth of character first, and if Leonard-esque was an adjective, it would apply here: real, flawed, people embroiled in plausible, mundane and often deeply uncool crime scenarios. Coon is magnetic as always, but this is Whigham’s show, and this performance might yet take him to awards season as one of the year’s best.

Title: Lake George
Festival: Tribeca (Spotlight Narrative)
Director-screenwriter: Jeffrey Reiner
Cast: Shea Whigham, Carrie Coon, Glenn Fleshler, Max Casella
Sales agent: Range Media Partners
Running time:  1 hr 47 min

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