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The World Made Straight | Review

Civil War on Drugs: Burris Turns Southern Gothic into Southern Comfort

David Burris The World Made Straight PosterThough its title sounds something you’d expect to grace a Christian propaganda film starring Kirk Cameron, the directorial debut by producer David Burris, The World Made Straight, gets drunk on its own solemn resonance and turns its intriguing elements of tragic fate and warps them into eye crossed foolishness. Painstakingly earnest Jeremy Irvine, struggling still to make good on the boost afforded his visibility after 2011’s War Horse, headlines a curious cast assembled atop an organism featuring a number of exciting elements. But this is rather complicated material and is based on Ron Rash’s 2006 novel. A higher degree of finesse could have teased out the tale’s noir roots, as clearly it’s inspired by any number of Elizabethan or Greek tragedy sources, whereby bloodlines are irrevocably cursed by misdeeds of the forefathers.

A high school dropout, Travis (Jeremy Irvine) seems to be drifting through existence in his rural North Carolina community. He hangs out with his best bud (Haley Joel Osment) with no real plans for the future, other than to distance himself from his parents. Stumbling upon a crop of marijuana in the woods one day, Travis cuts himself a large plant and, with the help of his friend, sells it to Leonard (Noah Wylie), who is a local dealer. Leonard used to be a schoolteacher, and he sees an immediate potential in Travis. But going back to snag some more herb gets Travis stuck in a bear trap, and the owner of the crop, Carlton (Steven Earle) strikes a deal with Travis before he takes him to the hospital. Recovering from his wound, Travis meets a flirtatious nurse (Adelaide Clemens), but his troubled relationship with his father finds him at Leonard’s doorstep for a place to crash. Leonard’s girlfriend (Minka Kelly) is none too happy with this, especially as Leonard slowly becomes Travis’ mentor, and makes the young man aware of the violent events from the Civil War that fell upon his ill-fated ancestors. This leads Travis into an obsession with past events that are due for a present reckoning.

Burris is best known as an executive producer of the reality television series “Survivor,” the behemoth that arrived in the first wave of nuclear waste that mutated network sensibilities into the uneasy hybrid we have today. His foray into filmmaking is an inspired one, though it’s a project he doesn’t seem quite right for, at least considering wasted talent behind the scenes. Rash’s 1970 set novel (he’s also the author of the novel that inspired Susanne Bier’s long delayed Serena) was adapted by Shane Danielson, whose previous credit was the B medical sci-fi thriller Errors of the Human Body (2012). There is a better way to graft Rash’s weighty subject matter onto the big screen, but Danielson and Burris can’t quite make the very literal and continual references to the Civil War incident that’s locked its contemporary characters in crisis without seeming incredibly silly and campy. Opening with the murder of a child during gun battle, this has all the prowess of a skit from “The Whitest Kids U’ Know.”

But The World Made Straight manages to skirt around its empty headedness for quite some time, if solely for its technical proficiency. The visual façade feels correct, thanks to the cinematography from David Gordon Green’s DoP Tim Orr, and if it weren’t for several recognizable cast members, this otherwise looks and feels appropriate as rural Southern Gothic set in the isolated shadows of the Appalachians. However, too much of this is laughable. Perhaps if we hadn’t seen the bespectacled young lad gunned down early on, then the easy discovery of his glasses made by his ancestor using a metal detector within minutes of visiting the grassy knoll over one hundred years later wouldn’t seem so dopey. Perhaps it’s just hard to believe that these down and out denizens don’t have more to worry about then a casualty from the Civil War, of all things. As if to quell these worries, we have people uttering obvious things like “it’s always going to be this way, different people, different places” during a late staged showdown.

A distractingly gruff Noah Wylie dances circles around co-star Jeremy Irvine, who only manages to convey the emotions of a handsome puppet, pulled this way, then that, without much register in emotion. His romantic connection with Adelaide Clemen’s nurse is wearisome, while the film’s other female character, an improbably beautiful and unflaggingly messy drug addict, scores more attention from the audience. And, yeah, there’s Haley Joel Osment in there as a useless friend. The World Made Straight is a film made silly, and if we have to believe these white folks are still obsessing about such particular details from the Civil War, perhaps that explains the continued comfort with and reward bestowed upon slave narratives.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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