Shea Whigham and Carrie Coon in classic neo-noir

A clever little neo-noir carried by two sympathetic protagonists, Lake George follows two middle-aged criminals who try to rip off a rich gangster and somehow get away with it.

Is this a familiar premise? Yes. Do stars Shea Whigham and Carrie Coon manage to make the material both fresh and engaging? Yes. Is there still a theatrical audience for this kind of modest, well-acted, expertly crafted B-grade thriller? That remains to be seen.

Lake George

The essential

Both familiar and fresh.

Place: Tribeca Film Festival (story in the spotlight)
Cast: Shea Whigham, Carrie Coon, Glenn Fleshler, Max Casella
Director, screenwriter: Jeffrey Reiner

1 hour 38 minutes

Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, veteran Jeffrey Reiner’s latest feature offers some welcome twists on a typical film noir storyline: ex-convict Don (Whigham) gets out of prison and attempts to recover the money that is owed to him by a thug from Los Angeles, Armen. (Glenn Fleshler), who lives in a huge McMansion in the Hollywood Hills. But Don is not a tough guy, and he ends up being forced to kill Armen’s former girlfriend, Phyllis (Coon).

There’s nothing new about this setup, which is worked out in the first 10 minutes or so. The rest of Lake George it all depends on how this initial plot unfolds and continues to unfold until the very end.

Indeed, Don is not a typical outlaw, but rather a meek, world-weary insurance adjuster who served a long prison sentence for helping Armen commit a series of insurance frauds. On the other side of the hill, with a bad arm and paralyzed by panic attacks, he’s not exactly the right candidate to commit murder. So it’s no surprise that instead of shooting Phyllis at point-blank range like he was supposed to, he erred by teaming up with her to steal Armen and start a new life.

Reiner’s scenario recalls Double compensation, Out of the past and other classics of the genre where a half-nice guy crosses paths with a femme fatale and lots of bad things ensue. But the director doesn’t follow that formula completely, focusing on a few crooks who are already past their prime and just looking for some peace and quiet. This is particularly the case for Don, a broken man separated from his own family and left with only a small cabin (located on the edge of the film’s titular lake) where he hopes to settle down and be forgotten.

Whigham has had memorable supporting roles in everything from Jeff Nichols To protect at HBO Boardwalk Empire, so it’s nice to see him take the lead role for a change. He barely says a word throughout Lake George, yet he convincingly channels a man with little left to live for, walking around stunned and shocked by all the wrong turns he’s taken in his life. Coon seems to be having a ton of fun as a bleached blonde seductress who…

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