Some stories are best left to the page, which may be the case with David Burris’ screen adaptation of Ron Rash’s novel of the same name. The film attempts to tie the struggles of a young man, Travis (Jeremy Irvine), to his Civil War-era ancestry but never quite makes the connection real to the audience. The importance of “kin” is brought up time and again by the characters in the film, including Travis’ mentor Leonard (Noah Wyle), but the writing and acting of the film never come close to demonstrating the depth of these connections. What we are left with, essentially, is a film barren of story, character development, and emotion.
The World Made Straight takes place in a North Carolina Appalachian community in the 1970s where the memories of the Civil War are buried just beneath the surface. Literally. The characters all talk about the importance of history to them, mostly in the context of familial conflict, and of course this is brought out in the most straightforward way. Travis is a 17-year-old at odds with his father, Leonard is a middle-aged man with an estranged family, and other extraneous details link them to the secondary characters. In a novel, there is room to explore and draw these lines clearer, but while the film does have a measured pace, it doles out so much exposition it is hard to keep track of what is important and what is simply there to add color to the landscape. After finding himself directionless, Travis seeks to uncover what happened to members of his family who were all killed in the same shoot out during the war, and Leonard conveniently has all the information he needs.
Given that this is Burris’ first feature, it is not surprising that the film is a bit rough around the edges. There are numerous dispensable shots and scenes throughout the film that only serve to increase the runtime or wax nostalgic about a very iconic brand of Americana. None of the characters are particularly fleshed out or memorable, and some only serve as decorative tokens we’ve come to expect in Appalachia (i.e. drug pushers). It’s not terrible per se, but the film does little to stretch beyond the boundaries of these generic characters. The production should be praised for the lived in feel of the homes, cars, and farms, giving a lifelike quality to the visuals that others aspects of the film lack. Sadly, The World Made Straight offers little to recommend, with the stories never coalescing or even layering in an intriguing way.
The World Made Straight opens today at the Roxy Theater