Written and directed by Ray McKinnon, and co-starring McKinnon's wife Lisa Blount as the title character, Chrystal bears the hallmarks of the vanity project. Characters make knowing but unlikely references to Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote, and the actors get to play damaged humans with exaggerated physical tics for which there are extended and indulgent close-ups. And there also are good scenes of fighting and fornicating.
McKinnon and Co.'s attention to the Arkansan ambience is deeply felt and perhaps the best thing about the film. A couple of tourists arrive--they're the obligatory musicologists from the big city--and do little except supply us with another handicapped character, a black and blind scholar. Better is the brief appearance by Harry Dean Stanton as the locally famous guitar picker (the music of Drive By Truckers is heard elsewhere on the soundtrack).
There's an admirable attention to the Arkansan ambience in Chrystal, and the film also has the agreeable lassitude of the 1970s cinema. But Thornton's increasing tendency to underplay his roles proves fatal here--he truly becomes the Man Who Wasn't There.
Chrystal opens this Friday