Crime doesn’t always pay, and typically it takes much more than it gives. The promise of some reward from a job almost never comes easily or without strings, and the notion of one payoff being enough to set someone up for life hardly ever works out, since the allure of returning for more is just too strong. Blood for Dust follows one man’s efforts to take care of his family that result in him getting deeper and deeper into a situation he can no longer control, unable to escape the fate he has created for himself.
Cliff (Scoot McNairy) is a traveling salesman who has a particular charm, able to softly explain the benefits of his products to a captivated audience. Yet not everyone, including his supervisors, can appreciate his abilities, and the loss of one job leads him to consider something else far less savory. A run-in with Ricky (Kit Harington) opens his eyes to new opportunities, though he knows that he may have to give much more than he is willing in service of the ultimate goal: to get back to his life without bringing any trace of this unfortunate chapter with him.
Blood for Dust, which comes from director Rod Blackhurst, feels at times like an amalgam of Fargo and Sweet Virginia, a slow-burn Midwestern thriller that taps into the wide, open spaces it inhabits and the relative anonymity that comes with people moving from place to place without really being noticed. The cast is small and the characters mostly hidden by masks they wear, reticent to reveal their true natures for fear of showing weakness in front of those they know wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage to establish dominance.
McNairy, who also appears in a small role in another Tribeca selection, The Line, starred earlier this year in Fairyland, which made its premiere at Sundance. He has an impressive ability to headline a film while still allowing others to shine, and his portrayal of Cliff is perfectly understated. It’s never entirely possible to understand what kind of man Cliff is, and to know for sure if he’s telling the truth or catering to exactly the audience he knows is listening. It’s a disarming turn that McNairy pulls off well, and he fits the bill of leading man in a way that is calibrated just right for this particular film.
Opposite McNairy is Harington, who is making interesting project decisions following the retention of global fame for his role as Jon Snow on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Like the psychological horror film Baby Ruby, which debuted at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, this film allows Harington to do something completely different. Ricky is best described as a loose cannon, but one who slowly unfurls himself and doesn’t afford the targets of his unpredictability the chance to see him coming. Harington and McNairy make an intriguing pair, neither terribly inviting but somehow alluring as protagonists nonetheless.
There are a handful of other actors who appeal in small roles in the film, including Josh Lucas, Stephen Dorff, Ethan Suplee, and Nora Zehetner. There is evidently talent to be found in this film, one that offers a bleak portrait of humanity. It’s not that there are no good guys, but rather that everyone has flaws and that it isn’t easy to root even for the film’s clear protagonist who has partially altruistic aims. The setup is promising but the end product doesn’t fully deliver, offering a sobering, often gruesome tale of bad decisions from impossible choices and the consequences that inevitably follow.
Blood for Dust makes its world premiere in the Spotlight Narrative section at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.