“Road to Paloma” (2014) – Movie Review

The influence of the classic “Easy Rider” (1969) can be felt throughout “Road to Paloma”: Two bikers traveling across the country, outside the boundaries of law and on a more or less spiritual mission. Jason Momoa plays Robert Wolf, a Native American who’s on the run from the law because he killed his mother’s rapist and murderer. We don’t get to see the actual act of revenge, but rather its after-effects, the title of the movie referring to the journey the protagonist makes to honor his mother’s memory by performing a sacred ritual in a certain place.

The first thing you notice in this movie is the cinematography. It is gorgeous (in fact, I would recommend seeing the movie for the cinematography alone). D.P. Brian Andrew Mendoza does a great job in showcasing the Californian landscape, which becomes a character in itself in this kind-of old-school (in the best sense) road movie. The second best thing is the soundtrack. Ohad Benchetrit and Justin Small, along with a selection of rock/alternative folk songs (such as this one) provide a score that fits perfectly with the tone of the movie.

In his feature-length directorial debut, Jason Momoa shows a lot of potential, proving he has a good eye and instincts, especially when it comes to fighting scenes. One in particular is very well staged and shot, making you feel every punch the character receives. I am really interested to see his next project as a director.

In regards to acting, everybody does a good job, but the most memorable performances belong to Robert Homer Mollohan (as Wolf’s partner/friend/sidekick, Cash – who, by the way, has probably one of the best character introductions ever portrayed on film) and Timothy V. Murphy (as the very threatening FBI agent Williams, the man sent to capture Wolf). Mollohan goes a bit over the top in some scenes, but I guess that’s to be expected when playing a drunken biker.

The main problem I have is with the script. The movie was a pleasant ride, but at the end, I realized that I didn’t feel that invested in the story, in the characters, I didn’t care that much about them… Maybe that’s because I’ve seen this type of story/movie before. But that wouldn’t have mattered if the characterization was deep enough. I guess the writers/director thought that the characters’ (or actors’) personalities and the main character’s reason were enough to make them likeable and relatable, and they do to a certain extent, but not enough to really carry the story. The movie meanders a lot in some places. A lot of the scenes feel like filler – they don’t really advance the plot, or bring any real depth to the characters. True, this can be said about “Easy Rider” as well, but that movie dealt with characters that were almost constantly on drugs, it supposed to be like that – their journey didn’t have an actual purpose, it was the journey itself that mattered (in all the meanings of the word – spiritual and physical). The characters in that movie were more or less symbolic, they weren’t meant to be “realistic” – whereas here, the tone is more down-to-earth, Wolf’s motivation is more dramatic (even tragic), so when you watch the film, you expect realistic characters and situations.

With that being said, “Road to Paloma” is a very enjoyable movie, and, I have to admit, I became more aware of its flaws only while writing this review. The way I see it, you’re not supposed to think while watching a movie (at least not the first time watching it). You’re supposed to think afterwards. The movie is supposed to keep you enthralled throughout the whole time, to keep you interested in the world it creates. When you start to think during a movie and ask questions such as “Why did he say that? What’s that? … Wait… what?!”, something’s not right with the movie, it failed to fully immerse you in its world. And, well, to be honest, this movie kept my interest throughout the whole time and I was not bored a minute. I also liked that the filmmakers didn’t pull any punches and ended the movie the only sensical way it could have ended.

“Road to Paloma” is probably not the best movie you’ll see this year, but if you like classic road movies (like I do), or biker stories (like, for instance, “Sons of Anarchy”), or tales of a just rebel outlaw on the run, then you should definitely check it out.

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