Byron Bay Film Festival Film Review: An American In Texas (USA, 2017) is a film for the disenfranchised

It’s a hard fought ninety-seven minutes for the protagonists in An American in Texas, but it’s a fight they could never really win. In Anthony Pedone’s latest, it’s the early 90’s and the U.S has its sights set on a war in the Middle East. As the effects of the conflict settle across the States, we meet a group of friends looking for their way out of small town Texas.

Taking place in the town of Victoria, Pedone’s indie drama tracks the group of misfits through the tail end of their seminal years as the weight of the Gulf War begins to press down. The group is made up of the good-looking Chad (James Paxton), turbulent Billy (Tony Cavalero), the very loyal Paul (J.R. Villarreal), medicine student Zac (Sam Dillon) and eventually the boys’ new neighbour Kara (Charlotte Best).

They pass time working side-jobs, doing drugs and playing in a punk band, which lead singer Chad believes is the group’s way out. With the arrival of the war however, the town begins to close in around them and the pressures of growing stagnant leaves the group spiraling towards stranger fronts.

It’s an exploration of familiar tropes, but with motives unfamiliar. There’s no exposition in the characters dialogue or actions, but as the film advances, the group grows noticeably vindictive towards the flag bearing patriots that usher in the States war for democracy.

There are exchanges around a ‘support the troops’ bumper sticker being the worst one yet, there’s paranoia in the partygoers as they fear a new conscript and there’s horror every time we catch glimpses of the war, whether it’s through audio cues relating George W. Bush, or in the distorted faces of the oil magnates in the town.

The group carries on mostly disaffected, they neither embrace nor reject the war volubly, but their response to it remains clear. It’s their later actions that really signal their frustrations as they become further exiled in a place they’d already lost the patience for. And this is An American in Texas’s greatest achievement, to rationalise senseless actions without the meandering political spiel.

Akin to the film’s narrative, the cinematography offers some great moments. Shots of an antique ‘fried chicken drive in’ set the era of the film, where creative firework sequences add diversity to the body of night-time scenes that fill a large portion of the film. The soundtrack also carries the sentiments of the film with an eclectic mix of punk rock and original compositions.

Where the film tends to stray is in its most tentative scenes. There’s quality to the performances from most of the cast, most of the time. But when the background falls and  there’s no music or crowd chemistry, the characters lose some of their potency. The two that share the most camera time, James Paxton and Charlotte Best, are also the two that give the most eclectic performances, being natural and confident in one scene, only to be completely uncertain in the next.

Through its core, the film tends to waste moments on scenes that look better than they play out; but the motive behind the film is always lurking, and the narrative and writing from Pedone and Stephen Floyd helps see it to firmer grounds. For as far as An American in Texas reaches into rural America from the genesis of the Gulf War, it goes just as far into the lives of those confined by rural borders, and those sentiments are pervasive on every ground.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

An American in Texas Premiered at the Byron Bay Film Festival earlier this week.