A timely and tragic depiction of intolerance and bigotry
By Richard Whittaker,
9:00AM, Sat. Apr. 25, 2015
The roots of hate are twisted and deep, and they are never easily separated, pruned, or transplanted. That's the terrifying message of Supremacy.
The film rewrites the true story of a 1995 home invasion. Robert Scully, (here re-created as Garret Tully, and played by The Divide's Joe Anderson) was a Neo-Nazi ex-con, fresh out Pelican Bay. Five days after he was released (less than a day here) he shot and killed Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff Frank Trejo (in Supremacy, an unnamed African-American, rather than Hispanic officer). With female accomplice Brenda Kay Moore (Dawn Olivieri as Doreen), he invaded the home of retired merchant seaman Frank Cooper (here patriarch Mr. Walker) and his family.
It seems like standard home invasion fare, with each man aiming for an end to the siege. "You want out of here?" Walker asks him. "We want you out of here. Seems like we've got something in common." But there's additional, toxic tension. Walker, played by Danny Glover, is African-American, the self-inflicted scourge of hair-trigger Tully's life.
Director Deon Taylor comes from a schizophrenic background of low-budget comedies and low budget horrors, and Supremacy undoubtedly veers closer to the latter, with Tully threatening to explode into nothing more than a cartoon monster. But he never does. He is crippled by his bigotry, trying to stay just enough in control to make sure he doesn't turn things into a blood bath.
The over-riding question is, what drives a man like Scully/Tully to do what they do? There's an impressive 1999 article in The Atlantic on how Scully, and others incarcerated like him, end up so twisted. Tully is filled out through flashbacks, but he is never redeemed. Anderson's experience as a vengeance-fueled deviant will probably stand him in good stead in his next role, since he has taken over from Michael Pitt as the physically and morally mutilated Mason Verger. Tully is self-scarred with swastika tattoos, and internally twisted by his racism. Every time a member of Walker's family does anything, he twists and turns to find a way that his bigoted world view can deride or debase them.
Much of the credit belongs with the script by Eric J. Adams, who expands his 15 minute 2011 short into a tragedy of inherited behavior and racial tension. Admittedly, it goes off the rails a little with the introduction of some overly-coincidental characters (not least that Walker's son is one of the cops investigating the officer's shooting) and some of the easiest conventions of the genre. Occasionally, Walker's family becomes a little predictably heroic, near angelic. But at its best, it's a fascinating study of how people react under pressure: with pragmatism, with fear, with devotion to a cause, or with sudden betrayals.
Adams' secret weapon is the counterbalance between Tully and Dorreen. He is a true believer, a dangerous and self-destructive zealot, while her alliance to the cause is quickly revealed to be self-serving. A final appearance by Anson Mount (AMC Hell on Wheels) as the leader of the Nazi group twists the knife further into the guts of organized bigotry, leaving Anderson as less the wild wolf of his visions, and more a howling, abandoned dog.
Supremacy (Well Go Entertainment) is out on DVD and Blu-ray now. Also out this week:
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Kino Lorber) Between What we Do in the Shadows, Only Lovers Left Alive, and Summer of Blood, it's been a stellar season for vampires, but writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour has made an enormous impact with her revisionist take, using Bakersfield as a stand-in for Iran. Read our full review here.
Cake (20th Century Fox) Widely (and cruelly) written off as Jennifer Anniston's attempt at Oscar bait, this tale of a woman addicted to her own pain, and the pain she inflicts on others, never equals her performance. Read our full review here.
Everly (Anchor Bay) Salma Hayek goes gun-crazy in this deliciously innovative and highly creative re-imagining of the siege thriller. Read our interview with director Joe Lynch here.
Taken 3 (20th Century Fox) Liam Neeson continues his unlikely transition into go-to action guy. Read our full review here