Overview: After a devastating loss, a young couple visit an island for a tropical getaway, but are confronted by personal and societal conflicts instead. Gunpowder & Sky; 2017; Rated PG-13; 88 minutes.
Stone Cold Open: The cold open montage of Director Logan Sandler’s Live Cargo relies heavily on images (sometimes coupling images without apparent connection) to establish moods and ideas that will be explored throughout the film. The first three shots of the film are establishing shots of the island that depict it as a sinister and troublesome place to be. Following this is the montage that depicts the loss of the main couple, which sets up their motive for wanting a tropical getaway to the island—only they don’t know what they’re in for. The filmmaker’s decision to shoot in black-and-white here is not only to deliver a fresh perspective of familiar images, but in context, it also helps to subvert the idea that this story’s healing narrative will not be a vibrant tropical getaway story. The filmmakers are able to convey this idea and set up the main location and characters in a two-minute montage without spoken dialogue.
Tropical Paradise: The film sticks to this approach of guiding the audience through the narrative with mostly the use of imagery. Live Cargo is black-and-white psychedelia. Each image is evocative and arresting on its own, and they manage to blend into one another without the film feeling like it has ever lost a sense of direction, visually.
The portrait of this troubled community of locals is effectively captured. The choice of featuring different genres of music that is local to the area adds a layer of authenticity to the film and helps immerse the audience into the setting. Additionally, Sandler and cinematographer Daniella Nowitz have a very observant eye, which proves essential to their goal of letting the environment drive the narrative. In particular, there are two beautiful sequences of Nadine (Bree Hemingway) partaking in the local scene of the town (such as diving and the local clubs). The two scenes support the film’s theme of true healing coming from immersion into paradise, instead of from preoccupation with the aesthetic value of the island (which is, again, supported by the filmmaker’s decision to shoot in black-and-white). Or, at least it tries to convey this theme. The ideas the film is trying to convey are much too muddled and underdeveloped to extract meaning.
Lost in the Storm: The main problem of the film is that its images are very evocative and suggestive of themes that aren’t developed with much forethought. The three different stories (a mourning couple, a mayor trying to control his town, and a poor man making bad decisions due to poverty) fit together well in terms of the act of one event leading into the other, but they don’t blend together thematically. The three stories don’t have anything cohesive or important to say as a collective.
This underdevelopment is due to the uneven distribution of screen time to the characters. The poor man, Myron (Sam Dillon), gets most of the screen time, which is questionable given that the mourning couple were set up to have the main emotional journey of the film. It would have been adequate had Myron’s story have a relevant thematic connection to the couple’s, but it doesn’t. Besides pushing forward the main conflict, his story simply illustrates the effect of poverty and abandonment on the innocent. It’s also disappointing that the decision to give Myron’s story priority resulted in a rather rushed and convenient ending to the couple’s story that robs the entire film of any true catharsis.
Overall: Live Cargo is a refreshing take on the tropical getaway narrative. However, its striking aesthetic value and performances aren’t enough to distract from how shallow the film really is.
Featured Image: Gunpowder & Sky