In a sleepy Texas town, where daily life is as routine as the steps of a country line dance, writer/director Alex R. Johnson begins his deft neo-noir Two Step with some unexpected encounters. The aimless James (Skyy Moore) visits his grandmother only to find her near death, and befriends Grams’s saucy neighbor Dot (Beth Broderick) in lieu of grieving. A startled Amy (Ashley Spillers) doesn’t welcome the arrival of ex-con boyfriend Webb (James Landry Hébert), and flees with their stash of illicit cash.
The modest nature of Johnson’s directorial debut extends to its crime. Webb cold-calls seniors and pretends to be their distressed grandson, preying on their compassion and pocketbooks. Crime boss Duane (Jason Douglas) surprises Webb at home, turning the preparation and consumption of Tabasco-slathered fried eggs into an act of intimidation. Grams’s kitchen is the scene of bloody encounters after Webb targets James, who’s realized that his grandmother has been scammed.
Extraordinary ordinariness is Two Step‘s saving grace. The Austin-based Johnson employs many genre conventions and Texas tropes, but grounds them in plausible reality and idiosyncratic performances from great local talent. Hébert’s Webb exemplifies this approach. A violent hothead who won’t own up to his mistakes, he’s also a loyal henchman whose outbursts escalate into deadly encounters when he feels betrayed. Johnson spends as much time on Dot’s change of heart about a married lover as on Webb’s lethal machinations, making Two Step a noir character study where loss, suffering, and self-preservation drive criminal and victim alike.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on July 31, 2015 by Traverse Media
First published in The Village Voice, 2015.