Little Dixie (2023) Rotterdam Film Festival 2023

January 28th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: John Swab | Cast: Frank Grillo, Eric Dane, Annabeth Gish, Mercedes Mason, Peter Greene, Maurice Compte, Beau Knapp | US Thriller 100′

If you like taught genre thrillers with an arthouse edge this latest from John Swab is a hardboiled, neon-drenched, neo-noir affair, full of sassy set pieces, vicious performances and a script honed to the bone.

Little Dixie opens with a man strapped to the execution table awaiting death by lethal injection. Mexican drug baron Miguel Prado has committed triple homicide but he shows no remorse. The drugs trickle down their vials and into his body as he screams out in pain.

There to watch are State Governor Richard Jeffs (Dane), and erstwhile Special Forces agent Doc Alexander (a mesmerising Frank Grillo) who has been asked to broker a covert truce with Prado’s Mexican drug cartel, led by Miguel’s brother Lalo (Compte). But the death of Miguel puts an end to all that, and after Richard refuses to back down on his war on the cartel during a TV broadcast, the Mexicans want revenge.

Raphael Cuco, Lalo’s half-American henchman, has other plans, and they involve Doc’s adored daughter, Little Dixie – aka Nell – who he kidnaps, in revenge for Miguel’s death, demanding a ransom in the shape of Richard’s head, quite literally. And who is Doc to say no to Cuco, if it means saving the life of his darling daughter Dixie (Riggs).

Style-wise there are echoes of Nicolas Winding Refn’s recent Mexican outing Too Old to Die Young, but Little Dixie is a far tighter, punchier beast with the spareness of Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 in mind.

The bodies soon mount up. Doc’s crooked colleague Billy (Gish) and her girlfriend (Alexander) are the first to go, shot through the head in their double bed. Richard’s sidekick Clerke (Dekke) is another of Cuco’s casualties: handcuffed to the seat and torched in his car, lighting up the night sky like a blazing jewel. Another stylish scene takes place in a nightclub where Cuco hits on an Alice cooper-style Drag Queen, taking him back to a motel where he meets a violent end after discovering Dixie in the tub. Dixie, who is no shrinking violet, then gives Cuco a moral lecture as he reveals his backstory of being related to the Prados through his white mother and a gangland father.

The entertainment here is in these slick vignettes with their superb performances  masterfully handled by Swab and his DoP Will Stone and production designer Jose Cavazos. Nothing is spare or left to chance. Even after a massive murder spree involving some elegant blood-drenched manoeuvring, Grillo’s Doc seems philosophical and unfazed. And despite some dry retching, his hair remains immaculate as he takes to the wheel of his black chevy to drive to Zaragoza on the Mexican boarder for yet another confrontation: “It’s gonna be long night” he says. The final waterside scene is a classic: a tangerine-tinged sunset with the jetty stretching into oblivion. Anything could happen, and it does. But you’ll have to see the film to find out. MT



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