Maine looks freakin’ cold in the winter.
Joe Dawkins (Don Scribner) is an expert tracker who loves to hunt. A year ago his wife Pam died of an aneurism while he was on a three day hunt that was supposed to last one. He is wracked with guilt and estranged from his daughter, Jenna (Stephanie Leone), who holds her father solely responsible for her mother’s death. Joe unwisely agrees to take Greg (Clayton Myers), a lawyer with something to prove, and Greg’s reluctant brother-in-law, Charles (Nicholas Russell), on a hunt to shoot a 250 pound buck. As Joe’s mental state starts to fray at the edges, Greg and Charles’ hunting trip becomes a fight for survival.
The Guide is a nice little film, and Don Scribner is wonderful in the role of Joe, a man bordering on madness because he feels responsible for his wife’s death. Just before his big hunt a year before Pam complained of a burning headache, still Joe went, and when he returned Pam was dead on the kitchen floor. In theory, Joe was a husband and father, but first and foremost he was a hunter, and now he’s trying to make up for lost time by trying to reunite with his daughter, Jenna. She wants nothing to do with the man she feels could’ve saved her mother if he only took her to a doctor instead of going hunting. Scribner’s performance is quiet and measured, even when the immense amount of anger he’s bottled up is unleashed on the unfortunate duo who hired him to take them on a hunt; it’s still a controlled release. Scribner does a great job of conveying muddled emotions without out resorting to an over the top performance.
This film is more drama than thriller, the story of the fractured relationship between a father and daughter. All of the promotion for The Guide, makes it appear that this is an action packed intense film of a guide turning on the men who hired him. Although some of that happens, it is such a small part of the film. This movie is about relationships, Joe and Jenna as well as Greg and Charles. If someone goes into this film based on the advertising, they may be disappointed, not because the movie is bad, it’s quite good, but because they will be expecting a far different movie than is delivered.
From the moment Joe takes Greg and Charles to a secluded location to hunt, his mind is on Jenna. He is in fear for her life because her drug dealer boyfriend, Reggie (Jan-David Souter), wants his pound of flesh from Jenna after she takes $8,000 of his drugs and then loses them. Joe goes on this hunt because he’s promised anywhere from 10 to 20 grand from Greg. Joe can use that money to pay back Reggie, thus saving Jenna and hopefully getting back into her good graces. During the entire trip he sees images of Jenna, but also images of Reggie’s threatening face, leaving the once neglectful father in a panic, and he begins confusing reality with fantasy. Once he’s given over completely to his madness, Joe starts to see Reggie’s face in place of Greg’s, who realizes too late that he is in very grave danger.
Although a good chunk of this film takes place with Joe, Greg, and Charles on their ill-advised hunt, the film is mainly about the struggle that Joe and Jenna are going through to try and overcome their grief. Meyers simultaneously tells Joe’s story along with Jenna’s. We watch father and daughter at the end of their ropes: Jenna fighting to stay alive, and Joe fighting for her life at the risk of his own sanity. Greg and Charles are caught in the middle.
The Guide is populated by a cast of fantastic actors, most with minimal experience — the exception being Scribner — but they all are very solid in portraying these flawed characters. John Meyers delivers a touching film where just enough of the characters backstories are revealed through conversations they have with each other and through flashbacks that fill in the gaps, which helps to explain who they were and why they have become the people they are today. This would be great writing and directing by a seasoned veteran, but IMDb has The Guide listed as Meyers’ sole credit, and that makes this feat even more amazing.
The Guide has a hauntingly beautiful acoustic guitar score by Jason Mancine that is a perfect complement to this surprisingly serene film. It appears as if Meyers uses the music in the role of narrator, but it is never intrusive, nor does it overpower any scenes or the actors in them. One downside of the film is its tendency toward navel-gazing, at times it’s so single minded and focused on Joe’s state of well-being that it leaves the audience to talk amongst themselves until it Joe lets us back in. Nevertheless, I still highly recommend this film.
Presented in 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen, the DVD release is beautifully shot, the images bright and clean. The snowy climate of Northwest Maine is gorgeous, a perfect backdrop for a hunt. The Dolby 5.1 audio is clear, the dialogue easy to hear, but the spotlight is on the soundtrack and the wonderful light acoustic guitar accompaniment sprinkled throughout. My favorite song used in The Guide is called “Pink Emerson Radio” by Kathleen Edwards. This ethereal track plays over the menu screen just before you press play, but thankfully it’s also included at the end the film, carrying us out with an even more stripped down version. Edward’s voice is so beautiful, and is, like the film itself, sad with a glimmer of hope.
Even though The Guide doesn’t quite hit on all cylinders, it is a fascinating study of what people will do in the grips of their grief. It’s a father/daughter tale where two people don’t realize that the very thing they needed was right there all along. If you get an opportunity to see this film, jump on it!
The Guide (DVD)
2013, Paramount, 232 minutes, NR (2013)
VIDEO: 2.40:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English) SUBTITLES: English (SDH)
EXTRAS: None ACCOMPLICES: IMDB