Lost in the Sun is the 2015 feature-film debut of director and screenwriter Trey Nelson. It’s clearly a work of love, each shot crafted with painstaking care to create a visually beautiful piece of cinema. The endless road and open landscape creates a mood that’s both isolated and intimate, lending the impression that his characters exist in a private world of their own.
The plot centres around John (Josh Duhamel), a troubled man with a criminal past who offers a lift to orphaned teenager Louis (Josh Wiggins). As the road trip unfolds, John lures Louis into acting as his getaway driver in a series of robberies, but Louis isn’t as biddable as he seems, nor are John’s motives as clear-cut as they first appear.
The character of John is the heart and soul of the film, which explores this man’s tendency toward self-destruction. No excuses or reasons are offered because the past is not the point. The point is the future, and the consequences of a lifetime of bad decisions. Duhamel outdoes himself portraying John’s swings between amiable charm to insinuate himself into others’ trust and callous disregard when he exploits that trust.
Wiggins’ portrayal of Louis is less impressive, but that’s what happens when a script gives an actor so little to work with. While John is meticulously fleshed out, it’s often a struggle to understand Louis’ motivations. His initial decision to get into a car with unknown man can be excused by the film being set prior to mobile phones and, perhaps, the widely known teachings of ‘stranger danger’ (and idiotic decisions often being default for teenagers anyway), but there is absolutely no justification for him to grow so attached to John so quickly. After an encounter with John’s loan shark, Louis should have been running for the nearest police station, not begging John not to leave him behind.
It’s particularly egregious because later events show Louis isn’t stupid or easily controlled. In fact, his attempts to sabotage John’s plans provide the most riveting moments of the film. Buried somewhere here is a tightly written thriller about the ruthless manipulation of a child and two strong-minded characters trying to either maintain or upset control of their relationship.
Unfortunately, that’s not this film. The tension tapers off in the second half into an anti-climactic father-son dynamic that drags out excruciatingly. Their encounter with a mother and daughter duo (Lynn Collins and Emma Fuhrmann) renders an interesting contrast in their attitudes toward the opposite sex, but the heavy-handed sermonising of a random preacher (Larry Jack Dotson) doesn’t quite succeed in portraying John as a lost soul. If anything, he comes off as an honest sceptic and Louis as a smirking brat not above using people as pawns to get his own way.
As a stand-alone film, Lost in the Sun is flawed and impossible to recommend. The plot meanders and Louis’ characterisation is hollow. The only real success is John’s character, a man who fascinates with murky and often contradictory motivations. Nevertheless, as Nelson’s first film, Lost in the Sun shows potential. If he can apply what he’s learned to future projects, he has a promising career ahead of him.
THE REEL SCORE: 4/10