Post-Fleabag withdrawal will have Andrew Scott admirers chomping at the bit for another heavenly performance, cue Simon Fellows’ new thriller Steel Country set in Pennsylvania’s backwaters, adorned with Trump propaganda, American flags and water towers. There’s no mistaking what country we’re in as sanitation worker Donald Devlin (Scott) begins an obsessive investigation following the death of a local boy.
A father himself, Donald struggles to accept that the boy’s death was accidental and embarks on a hunt for the person responsible. Donald’s unnerving, amateur detective work begins to rouse the town’s suspicions. The film’s focus is on the investigator rather than the investigation, a fascinating and heartfelt performance by Scott keeps you watching, eager to know more about this individual and his past. That said, both investigation and the story behind the inner workings of Donald Devlin are spread too thin. Neither gets a real chance to make its mark as effectively as it should. Ends are left (deliberately?) untied to the point where the characters and narrative have limited substance and context.
The film is unequivocally American, the cultural markers almost bordering on cliché in some areas; the dive bar and the iconic water tower are all things we’ve seen before and possibly the result of Fellows’ being from across the pond, as well as a handful of the film’s key actors. It’s an American thriller but it’s unclear as to the story it wants to tell, so much so that it has two titles, Steel Country and A Dark Place. Set in Pittsburgh’s once thriving steel industry, the fictional town of Harburgh merely sits as a backdrop rather than something that is commented on within the film, a possible reason for the name change.
Scott’s strong performance and Fellows’ ability to keep his audience guessing carry the film to the end, where it muddles through towards an anti-climactic finale. The film is enjoyable enough until the point where you realise your curiosities will be met with silence, which works in some cases but unfortunately, not here. A bold attempt at an original take on an established genre but with its lack of direction, Steel Country leaves us in a bit of A Dark Place.
Steel Country is out in cinemas on the 19th April.
Director: Simon Fellows
Starring: Andrew Scott, Bronagh Waugh