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This article was published 14/4/2016 (437 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Befitting a movie featuring a degenerate gambler, Sean Garrity’s Borealis takes a few breathtaking risks.
Fortunately, they pay off, which is more than you can say for the foolhardy ventures undertaken by Jonah (Jonas Chernick) in the secret gambling dens of downtown Winnipeg. He leaves a poker table owing more than $95,000 to one Tubby Finkelman (Kevin Pollak), an unlikely hoodlum: Tubby has the calculating abilities of a Texas Instrument and the temperament of a Texas chainsaw.
If the crushing debt qualifies as a career setback, Jonah’s personal life is even more dire. He is a widower and his daughter Aurora (Joey King) is slowly losing her eyesight to retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 15. Her doctor gives her less than a month before she goes completely blind, a fact Jonah can’t bring himself to tell her. We’re barely 15 minutes into the movie when Jonah suffers another blow: his girlfriend, Kyla (Emily Hampshire), fed up with his lies, leaves him.
Then Tubby comes calling with an impossible ultimatum to come up with the money in 24 hours.
Jonah doesn’t know when to walk away, but he knows when to run. He convinces Aurora to go on a road trip to Churchill to see the northern lights, as they were his most cherished memory of his honeymoon with his late wife.
Aurora finally consents but only because she has some ideas of her own, including a possible hook-up with the friend of a friend, a cool pot-grower who lives in Flin Flon.
Tubby gives chase, all the while calculating expenses and a per diem to add to Jonah’s tab.
With a script by Chernick, director Garrity defies the odds here. He has a protagonist who makes the wrong move at every turn, often to the detriment of a daughter who desperately needs stability.
He also makes a road movie in which the scenery is bleak almost to the point of hilarity.
The movie’s charms are in its details. Look at the oddball dynamic of Tubby and his presumed henchman Brick (a quietly funny Clé Bennett).
When faced with a shotgun-wielding hunter, Tubby is the guy — the accountant, mind you — who runs at him in unchecked rage. Or look at the scene in which Aurora comes on to the Flin Flon pot dealer, only to be gently rebuffed, yet accommodated when it comes to her unusual request. Describing it on paper might be horrifying but such is Garrity’s light touch that plays with sweet tenderness.
The film’s principal asset is King, who takes a potentially clichéd character — a teenage girl who’s tough on the outside and scared on the inside — and gives her a real living, breathing presence.
Chernick, too, manages a neat trick with his character over the course of the film. Initially, Jonah is the kind of guy for whom the German word backpfeifengesicht was invented. It refers to someone you want to punch in the face.
It’s an achievement in itself that, once you’ve got to understand him better by the film’s end, a good-natured slap would suffice.