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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Broke Sky is a movie that really keeps you on your toes. The film, now showing on demand via IFC Festival Direct, starts off almost as a dark comedy. Bucky (Will Wallace) and his older colleague Earl (Joe Unger) are municipal workers who drive around the roads of a small Texas county scooping up and disposing of roadkill. It's a disgusting job but, as the saying goes, someone's gotta do it. Their livelihood appears threatened when the county purchases a fancy new truck that sucks up dead animals with a giant vacuum. The truck requires only one driver, which means that either Bucky or Earl will have to be laid off.

They devise a plan by which they sneak into neighboring counties at night to steal their roadkill (yes, you're reading this correctly), figuring that if they can statistically out-perform the truck, the county will have no choice but to stick with the old tried-and-true method. It's at around this point that the film shifts from comedy to something more dramatic. While swiping roadkill, Bucky and Earl discover the body of a dead woman. Bucky wants to notify the authorities; Earl has his own reasons for insisting that they do no such thing. Eventually, they throw the woman's body into the carcass pit. Bucky immediately starts to regret what he's done, and when Earl greets his remorse with outright hostility, it becomes clear that the older man has ulterior motives. This scenario leads to both feuds and shocking revelations.

Broke Sky was written and directed by Thomas L. Callaway, who's had a long career as a cinematographer prior to helping this independent effort. The movie reminded me of the works of the Coen Brothers in the way it veers between dark comedy and gruesome thrills. While perhaps not as polished or as sublime as Fargo and Blood Simple, it certainly has that same kind of feel. There's small-town intrigue, colorful locals, and the sense of grisly fate pervading them.

Both halves of that equation work. The early scenes, in particular, have a morbidly funny vibe, as Bucky and Earl face the grind - not to mention the ugly realities - of scooping up animal carcasses. It's about as dead-end a job as you are ever likely to find, yet they get through it with gallows humor and bemused resignation. When the thriller aspects come into play, the movie gets genuinely creepy. Dumping the woman into the pit disturbs us just as much as it does Bucky. It is an act committed out of desperation by a desperate man. Callaway nicely plays upon the "what would you do?" nature of the scenario so that the suspense grows the longer it takes Bucky to figure out what to do.

I'm not sure everything makes 100% sense. The third-act revelations come pretty fast, and honestly, I'm not sure a few of them are explained fully enough to be satisfactory. A mystery man in a ramshackle old house holds the key to the mystery; the exact nature of what he did was still a bit confusing to me when the film was over.

Nevertheless, Broke Sky has enough working in its favor to be worth a look. The movie gets extremely high mileage out of its low budget, and while the actors may not win any awards, they absolutely feel authentic in their roles. I'm a sucker for any film that can halfway-decently mix the funny with the creepy, so even with a few flaws, I found Broke Sky to be a compelling experience.

( out of four)

Broke Sky is unrated but contains graphic violence, profanity, and nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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