Director Allan Mindel's debut feature, Milwaukee, Minnesota, doesn't draw you in so much as remind you of movies already seen. The movie, scripted by R.D. Murphy, feels like a soulless mishmash of thriller, melodrama, and love story elements, all of them fastened together by direction that co-opts the styles and sensibilities of contemporary "indie" cinema.
From the outset, the movie bumbles into genre territory inhabited by superior specimens like John Dahl's Red Rock West, Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, and the Coens' Fargo. Images of wintry fields and desolate small-town streets -- not to mention a moody minimalist score that feels directly indebted to Thomas Newman's music for American Beauty -- puts us in a mind for an existential fable, something those aforementioned movies delivered by way of complex characters nursing pent-up desires and grievances. Mindell and Murphy provide us with a potentially interesting collection of ne'er-do-wells, dreamers, and saps. But their material is too shallow to allow any of their creations to function as more than cogs in the story's clockwork plotting. And, for a movie that references setting in its very title (more for its cultural implications than for geographic accuracy), Milwaukee, Minnesota's sense of place feels as arbitrary as its characterizations, never venturing beyond the stale stereotypes of the provincial Midwest.
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