I wrote my first screenplay a few years back, having just discovered and fallen in love with filmmakers the likes of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. The script was called “The Assistant” and told the story of the henchman of a low-level criminal; naturally, it had a non-linear narrative in a very Pulp Fiction-y sort of way. Needless to say, “The Assistant” was and remains terrible. And I couldn’t help but remember writing it as I watched Oren Uziel’s Shimmer Lake, now streaming on Netflix.
In spite of myself, I kinda like Shimmer Lake – yet I’m not sure how well that speaks to the film’s quality, given that it’s exactly the kind of Coen/tino non-linear crime story that I myself once wrote (and now know to be unreadable). It may be that I’m grading on a curve, but I’m fairly certain that Shimmer Lake is a good movie. Just don’t quote me on that.
For starters, the non-linear structure works pretty well here. It’s structured like Memento, with the opening sequence being the end of the story and the finale, the beginning. It’s a story told in reverse. And while there are some giant leaps in logic, and multiple characters doing things that make very little sense once the whole picture is taken into account, the cast is strong enough to render Shimmer Lake immensely watchable – I’m just now remembering that Ron Livingston is in this movie and he doesn’t do anything. Like, literally anything. Why is Ron Livingston in this movie? That’s not a rhetorical question; I genuinely want to know. If you know Ron Livingston, please ask him for me. Thanks.
Netflix did a number on me, promoting Shimmer Lake as if Rainn Wilson was its lead. In fact, the real lead here is Benjamin Walker as Zeke, a small town sheriff. Wilson plays his brother, a prosecutor who gets mixed up in a dumb dumb dumb bank robbery scheme. And while Wilson is doing his usual Rainn Wilson schtick (which remains perfectly serviceable and enjoyable to watch), Walker stands out here as a fantastic leading man. To my knowledge, I’ve never seen him in anything before (no, I did not see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, thank you very much) and wasn’t particularly impressed with his work in the first act of this film, but by the time I reached its end (its beginning?) he had thoroughly won me over. There’s a bank robbery sequence during which Walker’s straight-faced, deadpan delivery felt genuinely Coen-esque in its performance.
Adam Pally is in this movie, and that alone significantly bolsters Shimmer Lake in my estimation. Wyatt Russell plays a villain-type; he’s incredibly dynamic and holds the screen effortlessly. (‘Member how great he was in Everybody Wants Some? I ‘member.) John Michael Higgins, Rob Corddry, and Stephanie Sigman round out the cast nicely. Nothing to criticize at all on a performance level. I do really love the fact that Uziel chose to put all of these talented comedy-types in his scruffy crime film. It works well, and likely keeps Shimmer Lake from being as tired as it ought to be.
And let me just circle back a sec – I like Ron Livingston. I’m not criticising the film for having him in it when I ask why he is – the film is better off for him showing up in it at all – I’m just advocating for people to put Ron Livingston in better films, to hire him for actual character roles. Remember Ofiice Space? He was good in that!
The thing is, as much affection as I choose to have toward Shimmer Lake, there’s no escaping the fact that it is what it is, and that is a poor man’s Coen Brothers’ rip-off lacking in self-awareness. From the dialogue to the tone to the visuals to the narrative structure, Shimmer Lake is derivative of better filmmakers on nearly every level. And that wouldn’t be as big of a strike against it if its script was just the slightest bit better. As is, though, the dialogue is rough at best and the characters’ behaviors make little sense. Consistency is not achieved here, and while I admire Uziel and like his film, Shimmer Lake is at best an enjoyable curiosity.
But there really isn’t anything wrong with that, when it comes right down to it, is there?