First, he teaches him how to drive: “No, you gotta get it up to 50, 60, even 70 miles per hour!”
Then, he’s teaching him how to shoot a gun: “the first rule of gun fightin’ is havin’ a gun.”
But only when the man tells him to stay in the driver’s seat and keep the engine going “no matter what” does the boy realize what’s happening: he has been trained as an accomplice in armed robbery. Their first job fails as the boy named Louis (Josh Wiggins) becomes nerve-sick—opening the side-door for some air, he accidentally drops the loot into the path of the rampaging store clerk. Who could blame him? He thought he was hitching a ride from his mother’s funeral to the house of his grandmother—his only living relative left in the world—with a distant friend of the family, not a criminal drifter. But the second time goes much smoother: the man named John (Josh Duhamel) gets away with the money and together they continue their destination-less journey through the highways of America as their mutual animosity blossoms into a doomed understanding and sympathy. Trey Nelson’s Lost in the Sun fords no new territory in the road movie, coming-of-age, or criminals-on-the-run genres. But shot with a deliberately sparse and Old Testament flavor, it seeks and discovers an identity all its own.
I use the term “Old Testament” because no other term best summarizes the moralistic atmosphere of the film’s Deep South setting. If anywhere in the United States has magic, it’s not the forests of New England or the acid-washed highways of California, it’s the endless open of the Deep South: a land of spirits and demons, saints and sinners, church revivals and murky bars. When Louis and John encounter an Evangelist preacher, his blessing of “I’ll be praying for you, son” carries a meaning pregnant with the promise of a Pentecostal fire both real and omnipresent. One can pick up echoes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s F♯ A♯ ∞ in the mournful wail of the soundtrack’s violins. Details about John’s past and his reasons for “borrowing” Louis seem pre-ordained and prophesied—when they’re eventually revealed they serve merely to confirm our suspicions.
But the budding relationship between Louis and John kept me truly interested in the film. Instead of remaining a pouty, whiny brat or transforming into a cold, calculated criminal like so many other characters in his position, Louis develops a vicious glee in sabotaging John’s plans: when he tries to dine and dash at greasy spoon, Louis stays behind “because he hadn’t finished eating”; when John tries to keep a low profile after dodging a highway patrolman, Louis marches right into a crowded church service. Never developing into unabashed antagonism, the perpetual push-pull of Louis and John’s relationship ended up being both totally organic and refreshing.