Elliot (Zach Selwyn) is driving down the highway in a bleached out, barren American landscape and spies a jaw-dropping beauty (Bonnie Warner) trying to hitch a ride. Elliot adjusts his glasses and turns the car around to pick her up but she is gone. Elliot proceeds onward, finding the girl engaged in a pitched battle by the roadside with a fat, middle-aged lout in a SUV. Elliot comes to rescue (Andrea, the hitcher, later remarks to Elliot, "What's your story anyway? Riding up and down the highway, looking for damsels in distress?") but quickly loses the advantage and gets bitch-slapped and kicked by the wayside schlub. Andrea takes command, pulling a gun, holding it pointblank at her violator's temple, and making the guy piss in his pants. Crying like a baby, he makes his retreat as Andrea screams like a banshee and cackles like a devil. Elliot runs up to her as the SUV drives away, and she simply shrugs it off. "Men!" she says.
Clearly, this woman is big trouble, and Andrea quickly reveals herself to be an unyielding junkie. But the smitten Elliot is willing to accept the consequences since he also turns out to be even more unfeeling and emotionally damaged than Andrea and her heroine dependency. He proceeds to take her under his wing and they make their way west through a parched, bleak limbo land, reminiscent of the gloom-laden terrains of Wristcutters: A Love Story, El Topo, and Zabriskie Point.
The film is a two-character tone poem, dependent upon the performances to carry it off. Selwyn and Warner are more than up to the challenge, pairing up together like an existential Tom Neal and Ann Savage from Detour. Selwyn's Elliot character starts off as an ever-apologizing innocent but as the film proceeds and the depths of his desolation are exposed, Selwyn takes the character into uncharted emotional turns, culminating in an extended scene of primal wailing that makes Arthur Janov's psychotherapeutic treatment look like a laugh track. But the pivotal role is Warner's. Andrea has to fill the bill as the neo-noir femme fatale -- she not only has to be sexy and despicable, joyful and angry, quirky and tenacious but also charismatic enough to make it believable that Elliot would forgive Andrea's needle marks and stick with her. And Warner is a revelation in the role. Like Elliot, the viewer is always on edge whenever Warner is on screen, never knowing which way she is going to go or which angle her angular face will take, looking gorgeous, hateful, innocent and beaten down from shot to shot. Warner gets inside your brain like a disease.
Burdine honors the lyrics of Neil Young's ode to despair, "The Needle and the Damage Done," by documenting for 106 minutes the line in the tune, "Every junkie's like a setting sun." Burdine infests his film with the gloom and helplessness of Young's song. It is there in the sun-blinding whiteouts of Elliot and Andrea's journey, in the ominous and fetid dark clouds that consume their Los Angeles destination, in the jerky jump-cuts and unfettered camera work (looking like a road movie version of Husbands and Wives). To his credit, Burdine sticks with his stifling style of melancholia and follows it through to its logical, doomed conclusion. No compromised Hollywood ending here; the company ain't called Anti-Films for nothing.
Damage Done is uncompromising and relentless, like an addict needing a desperate fix.
Burdine's film is now in its own limbo land, crying out for a theatrical release. A curiously appropriate if, as a whiplash-inducing follow-up to Burdine's three-year stint as director of the Teenage Mutants Ninja Turtles cartoon show, Damage Done makes a critical darling like No Country For Old Men look like Eight On the Lam.
We can rebuild her.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 10th January 2008
Distributed by: IndieFlix
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Roy Burdine
Producer: Roy Burdine, Peter Bruno
Screenwriter: Roy Burdine
Also starring: Joanne Baron
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