Heartland Roundelay


Where the hell is Laroy, Texas?

Well, you turn right at Coenville, follow down till you get to Better Call Saul, and take a hard left at Elmore Leonard. Laroy’s there on the right. You can’t miss it.

Laroy, Texas is a new entry in the sturdy genre of tongue-in-cheek “crime thrillers”; call it Heartland Roundelay. The form came into its own with the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple in 1984 and was refined in their 1996 Fargo and countless other movies: black comedies of the common person, dialogue-driven with sudden bursts of violence.

Most of these films are set in Texas or the Midwest and focus on low-rent strivers who want it all and are willing to do anything to get it. Everybody’s implicated in a merry-go-round of wrongdoing. Set the schmoes into motion in their natural setting—ranch houses, diners, strip malls, and strip clubs—and just wait for the next shoe to fall.

Laroy, Texas starts with a typical-looking guy named Harry picking up a big, bearded hitchhiker whose truck has broken down on a lonely stretch of highway. They banter: the hitchhiker jokes you can’t be too careful who you pick up, might be a crazy maniac. But the joke’s on him. As Harry digs a roadside grave, he gets a call: go to Laroy. There’s money in it if you kill somebody.

Of course, it helps that Harry, the hitman, is played by Dylan Baker, the man with a long face, tight squint, and toothsome smile.

Meanwhile, in the town of Laroy, a guy named Ray meets a guy in a diner who says he’s a detective, Skip Roche. Skip gives Ray a photo of his (Ray’s) wife entering a cheap motel, clearly for a sordid rendezvous. Ray is stung and refuses to believe it. Skip will prove it if Ray hires him.

Here, it helps that Ray is played by John Magaro and Skip by the ever-reliable actor Steve Zahn.

Ray’s a pushover, in business with his more outgoing brother and in love with his wife, a former beauty queen named Stacey-Lynn, the one captured on film at the cheap motel. Ray’s reduced to waiting in a car idling outside the motel room where the tryst is going on, intending to off himself. When suddenly, the passenger side door opens, and a stranger lurches into his car; he asks him, “Are you the guy?” Before Ray can answer, he shoves a bag of money into his hands.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse game of bad intentions, offbeat characters, and narrative twists. These folks lie, cheat, and double-cross in the best Pulp tradition.

And that cast. You’ll know John Magaro from Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and his poignant turn as the husband in Oscar-contender Past Lives. His slight frame and nebbishy ethos make him suitable for a particular kind of sad sack. (Also, Mr. Magaro is having a moment: he also produces the movie.)

Meagan Stevenson, as Stacy-Lynn, acts with wild eyes and a face that goes from giddy to harpy in a heartbeat. As Harry, the hired gun, Dylan Baker (where’s he been?) brings just the right amount of menace. Has there ever been a more ominous villain?

Steve Zahn (of HBO’s Treme and The Righteous Gemstones) brings his big grin to the role of detective Skip Roche. He’s the perpetual frat boy, all smiles and assumptions. Skip dresses Texas chic: big hat, bola tie, and studs (Stacey-Lynn tells him, “You look like you’re going to a cowboy prom.”)

And to complete the cast, who shows up but Brad Leland, Friday Night Lights’ Buddy Garrity himself, as a philandering car salesman?

Other notables include Matthew Del Negro as Ray’s smarmy brother Junior, Galadriel Stineman as a hapless stripper Angie, and Darcy Shean in a small but canny part as the car salesman’s wife.

First-time auteur Shane Atkinson’s script is witty and sharp. No doubt you’re in Texas, and no doubt guns will be fired (Ray even auditions one for suicide in a gun shop (“Have you got anything shorter?”). Mr. Atkinson directs as well, his wit extending to his way with actors and his framing and editing, collaborating with cinematographer Mingjue Hu and editor Sebastian Mialik.

Laroy, Texas (the producers say they’re shortening the title to just Laroy, a mistake. Is that a place or a person?) is modest in ambition but heavy on dark humor and a pokey kind of suspense. When done right, it’s a marvel to watch. Laroy, Texas is lively and unpredictable, but it is well worth the time spent.

(Postscript: As I write this, news comes that M. Emmett Walsh has died at the age of 88. He was in Blood Simple—mentioned in this review—and was as reliable a character actor who ever lived, appearing in over 200 films. Look him up. You’ll recognize him for sure. Rest in peace, Mr. Walsh.)


Laroy, Texas (a.k.a Laroy). Directed by Shane Atkinson. From Orogen Entertainment. Distributed by Brainstorm Media. 2024. In theaters. 112 minutes.

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