Writer/Director Tony Tost is no novice when it comes to writing in the western genre. Having cut his chops on the well-received Longmire and show-running Damnation he knows exactly what the ins and outs of the genre are. This is important to note because, in his latest film Americana, he destroys the known cliches and expectations of the genre in a way that only a true master can.
Americana which he charmingly describes as a Country Crime Film is an anthology of interlocking stories about local outsiders (Halsey, Sydney Sweeney, Paul Walter Hauser, Zahn McClarnon, & Gavin Maddox Bergman) in South Dakota which center around the theft of a rare Lakota Ghost shirt and the violence it leads to.
This film has been compared to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction but surprisingly Tost states his inspiration for the style of this film is actually Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express. Writing an anthology film like this is incredibly difficult. Even more so to pull off as successfully as Tost has. He actually wrote the script in a series of images with no dialogue at first. Over a year and multiple drafts later all the stories came together.
The overall theme of “finding your tribe/family” connects these multiple diverse stories in a powerful and unique way. Especially in Mandy’s (Halsey) story arc. A woman struggling with depression and stuck in an abusive relationship. Once she discovers her toxic boyfriend (Eric Dane) stole the Lakota artifact that he can sell on the black market she finds her way to escape. Mandy doesn’t realize the cost she’ll pay may be the relationship with her son (Gavin Maddox Bergman.)
Halsey steals every scene she is in with her feature debut and holds her own with the likes of such talent as Sydney Sweeney and Paul Walter Hauser. She brings a real desperation to the character which makes the audience truly feel for her in an empathetic way. You want her to escape even when she makes the most impossible of choices which leads you down a rabbit hole into the horrors of her past she must face in order to survive.
Character actor Paul Walter Hauser is cast as the Lefty Ledbetter (he’ll let you know he’s a righty) a welcome change to the typical roles he takes. He plays a sweet hopeless romantic cowboy who is desperate for love opposite Sydney Sweeney’s delicate approach to Penny Jo a singer cursed with a nervous stutter trying to make it to her big break. The chemistry between these two is palpable on screen. Their meet-cute scene will stick with you. An unexpected and welcome surprise to a film that fits well into the violence of a crime thriller.
Americana stands on its own by cleverly breaking expectations of the western genre and in so creates a film flush with intriguing characters whose stories are wholly unique and memorable.
Listen to the Full interview with Writer/Director Tony Tost