Movie Review: Anne Heche adds grace notes to her final film, “What Remains”

We’d made up our minds about Anne Heche long before her sad death in an accident last August. Controversy dogged her in life, and mental health issues — and the presence of cocaine in her system — were prominent in coverage of her disturbing final hours.

But she had one last film in the can at the time of her death. And even if her tragedy tends to overshadow “What Remains,” it’s worth recognizing the pathos, professionalism and charisma this final role showcases.

Heche plays a sheriff who rolls up to crime scenes in unkempt hair, cheap Aviator knock-offs and a worn 1970s Cutlass. Maureen is sort of a Texas version of Frances McDormand’s Marge in “Fargo.” She’s sharper than any of her male subordinates. She takes in the burned-out truck where a body was found and does what her Deputy Do Nothings didn’t. She looks at tire tracks. In a flash, she’s changed the nature of what this was.

“This isn’t where it happened.”

It’s the most economical and effective scene in this well-acted but slow and downbeat melodrama of murder, faith and attempted redemption.

Cress Williams of TV’s “Black Lightning” stars as Marshall, a small town preacher who opens the film washing blood off his hands at a convenience store. “What Remains” is mostly about what led to that moment, the murder — five years before — of the preacher’s wife, his ability and willingness to sermonize “Forgive your enemy” from the pulpit of Hope International Baptist Church, and the bitterness of his teen son (Marcus Gladney Jr.) over Dad’s ultimate “turn the other cheek” gesture.

The white murderer (Kellan Lutz) gets out of prison five years later, insists on coming “home,” apologizes to the preacher and ends up taking a part time job with him. Whatever each man is looking for from the other is mostly left-unsaid.

But from that set up, we can guess pretty much how we get to Sheriff Maureen determining somebody died as a product of bad blood, and thanks to the give-away in the opening scene, we know the bloody-handed preacher was involved.

Writer-director Nathan Scoggins is most interested in the father-son dynamic here. The friction over Dad’s forgiveness of Mom’s murderer, with an undercurrent of unequal “Texas” justice (the white killer got five years for murdering a Black preacher’s wife), creates real tension in that relationship, some of it oddly underplayed, some of it pitched more understandably over-the-top.

Truth be told, there isn’t enough here to recommend “What Remains.” The dialogue and faith-being-tested voice-over narration tends towards the trite and cant.

The performances are too subdued for too long to make us invest in the film right away, and you need that in a movie in which this little happens.

But Heche makes her curtain call memorable, not wasting one second of her screen time, a compact performance of canniness and compassion that nicely complements the leads and makes this worth watching, if not really worth “endorsing.”

Rating: unrated, violence

Cast: Cress Williams, Marcus Gladney Jr., Kellan Lutz and Anne Heche.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Nathan Scoggins. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:41

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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