Thomas Hayden Church is a former sitcom star best known as the lovably dim-witted mechanic Lowell Mather on the show “Wings” before making the leap to big screen stardom as a comedic sidekick to Paul Giamatti in the Oscar winning wine movie “Sideways.”
His latest film, “Whitewash,” sees him leave the comedy behind to take on a darkly psychological role that pits him against the snowy backdrop of Northern Quebec.
In the film’s opening moments we witness the event that shapes the remainder of Bruce’s (Church) life. A wild, drunken ride on a bulldozer through town leaves a man (Marc Labreche) dead. Panicked, Bruce hides the body in a snow bank and hightails it for the deep woods in an effort to avoid the police and clear his head.
The cold rugged wilderness provides a backdrop for Bruce as he pieces together the events of the past few days and flashbacks on exactly how he wound up in this situation.
There are moments of dark humor here as Bruce struggles to survive, physically and mentally, but the tone of the film is bleak. It starts with an accidental murder and never strays far from the primal necessities of Bruce’s life.
Church is in virtually every scene and delivers an extraordinary, minimalist performance. He doesn’t appear to be doing much, but subtly rides the lines between sanity and insanity, between absurdity and logic, leaving the viewer off balance as the film veers between the present and flashbacks. It’s Church’s performance that adds colour to “Whitewash’s” bleak story and ice white surroundings.
The dynamic between Labreche’s character Paul and Bruce fuels the story, building slowly to the film’s climax.
“Whitewash” is quietly suspenseful, melancholic that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but is an elegantly told story of redemption and survival.