A contemplative gangland movie, this has the slight misfortune of coming out in the same year as You Were Never Really Here, which deals with a fairly similar relationship and milieu in a much more striking, obviously impressive manner. Which isn’t to say that Galveston doesn’t have many quiet strengths – most of all, it showcases a couple of mesmerising yet unshowy lead performances from Ben Foster (almost as good here as in Leave No Trace) and Elle Fanning (who matches him without strain). Sometimes, performers – Joaquin Phoenix in YWNRH is a prime example – transform themselves and go the extra mile to sink into a character in a way that impresses awards voters. It’s possible that Foster’s intense presence in one of his recent run of outstanding roles gets deeper and more credibly into the psyche of a violent thug and fuckup who discovers his own humanity as he tries to help someone else — though his altruism also leads him to murder without fuss or hesitation an obvious wrong ‘un who crosses his path (Robert Aramayo, with a hairstyle that merits the death penalty by itself).
In the 1990s, a setting that only becomes apparent later, Roy Cady (Foster) – a minion of a blowhard crime boss (Beau Bridges) – thinks his racking chesty cough is terminal, which worries him so much he doesn’t notice he’s being set up for termination. A mix of luck, stubborn skills, and having nothing to lose means he gets out of a trap and goes on the run with a sheaf of incriminating mcguffin documents and call girl Raquel (Fanning), whom he has found taped to a chair in the hit men’s lair. It emerges that she’s come to this low point in her life in half the time it’s taken Roy to get doomed. They make a run for the coast to lay low, but Raquel insists they stop off to pick up her adorable sister Tiffany (twins Tinsley and Anniston Price) and Roy hears a shot fired in the home Raquel has run away from – later learning that she’s killed her stepfather. The menage find refuge in a motel – C.K. McFarland is terrific as the tough old no-nonsense broad who runs the place – but obviously trouble is on their trail and things get shaken up in a tough, yet elliptical finale that stresses Roy’s endurance after being brutalised in a long take of his staggering escape from one of his boss’s businesses.
Scripted by Nic Pizzolatto of True Detective, using the pseudonym James Hammett and adapting his own novel; directed by Mélanie Laurent, the actress (Shoshanna in Inglourious Basterds), who brings a particularly French sensibility to a typically American hard-boiled tale. Its story is rather slight, and most of its twists are signposted – but it gets pretty grim and ruthless. A coda with Lili Reinhart as adult Tiffany is as emotionally effective, yet vague in narrative as the rest of the film – with an impending hurricane and a girl in a red dress on the beach representing yet more dooms or transcendences.