"has a trump card in the unique way it is constructed and that is what resonates when the credits role"
While watching Detour, it feels at times like you’re experiencing the film on two different levels. That is, actually, part of the point – the narrative is designed to split into two seemingly separate storylines – but it’s a film in which the actual plot and the narrative structure are somewhat unique from one another, with one aspect being more successful than the other.
The central storyline sees well to do law student Harper (Tye Sheridan) at odds with his step-father while his mother lies in a coma. A chance (and somewhat contrived) meeting in a bar with hoodlum Johnny (Emory Cohen) leads to an offer – Johnny will kill Harper’s stepdad for a handsome fee. Harper is reluctant, blaming his initial eagerness for the plan on the drink. Yet Johnny proposes that Harper is at a proverbial crossroads and that he can go one way or the other and at this point the film – with a superb use of split screen – divides its narrative. In one storyline, Harper goes along with Johnny while in another, he takes matters into his own hands intent on avoiding murder.
It’s a narrative device that worked well in the romantic comedy Sliding Doors (and the casting of John Lynch in a small role suggests this is more than just coincidence) and is used to good effect here, yet director Chris Smith has plenty more tricks up his directorial sleeve. For this is a film that plays with narrative construction and while to say more would give too much away, Smith remains one step ahead of his audience throughout and takes great joy in pulling the rug from your eyes on more than one occasion. Just when you think you have deciphered what is occurring, Detour takes you on just that.
How the well the actual action on screen holds up is a slightly different matter. Regardless of the clever way in which it plays out to the audience, the plot remains extremely far-fetched, with more than its fair share of over-the-top scenarios. That the characters are often unsympathetic, despite good performances, means that it fails to engage on an emotional level at times.
Yet it’s a film that has a trump card in the unique way it is constructed and that is what resonates when the credits role. It doesn’t linger long in the memory but it is none the less a smart piece of filmmaking.