Emotions run high but Back Roads shows a promising start for Alex Pettyfer’s directorial career in his first opportunity behind the camera.
The film is set two years after Bonnie Altmyer (Juliette Lewis) is sent to prison for killing her husband. This leaves her son, Harley (Alex Pettyfer), in charge of his three younger sisters. It’s not easy for this family in rural Pennsylvania.
The theme of abuse runs very strongly through the film. It’s clear that older children Harley and 16-year-old sister Amber (Nicola Peltz) are the two most affected by what happened to their parents. Harley and Amber don’t have the best of relationships with each other. If Harley had his way, Amber would certainly be making different choices. But be it as it may, it’s up to Harley to take the responsibility for his siblings. with their mother in jail. This means having to make those choices that he shouldn’t have to make. As his mom sits in jail, Harley’s out there working his but off rather than go to college. Without doing so, it would be next to impossible to pay their bills. Even with two jobs, they can barely make ends meat.
Meanwhile, Amber doesn’t see things in the same light as Harley. I don’t know how much of this is because of growing up in an abusive environment. Harley may be her legal guardian but if Amber’s parents were around, maybe things could be different.
Their own issues notwithstanding, Harley soon finds himself crushing on Callie Mercer (Jennifer Morrison). Naturally, this crush leads to an affair with the married woman. Everything soon takes a turn for the worst. Everything that Harley thought he knew turns out to maybe not be the case. Harley learns some newfound information when he visits his mom in jail. There’s something about the style in which the scene is shot that really drives it home. As Harley interrogates his mother through the prison window, there are no cuts in their conversation. Other films would approach this differently but the camera stays on them over one long take for close to five minutes.
When one thinks about actors taking on roles that are different than how we typically see them, the conversation ought to include Jennifer Morrison and Nicola Peltz. Their performances in Back Roads are unlike any of their previous performances that I’ve seen form them. Peltz is able to put some humanity in the performance of Amber–a a young woman who was no doubt affected by the abusive environment around her.
Overall, the women of this film are complex characters but they’re every bit as important as Harley. Whether it’s his therapist, Dr. Betty Parks (June Carryl) or younger siblings, including Jody (Hala Finley) and Misty (Chiara Aurelia), they all add something of importance to the story. Set in the not-too-distant past, the film tackles a topic that couldn’t be more timely or relevant today.
Alex Pettyfer wanted to make Back Roads a decade ago. It’s a good thing he waited because that would have been a much different film.
DIRECTOR: Alex Pettyfer
SCREENWRITERS: Tawni O’Dell and Adrian Lyne
CAST: Alex Pettyfer, Jennifer Morrison, Nicola Peltz, Chiara Aurelia, Hala Finley, June Carryl, with Robert Patrick and Juliette Lewis