Director: Stephen Gyllenhaal
If Ann Turner's Celia gave the mistaken impression that it examined the effects of a 1957 rabbit plague on a suburban Melbourne family, you would be forgiven for assuming Paris Trout's opening sequence foretold the drama of a community at the mercy of a rabies epidemic. Not so. This languorously-shot potboiler is an evocative study in the small-town mores of America's deep south circa 1949. Journalist Pete Dexter's screenplay from his 1988 novel more than provides for a stunning feature debut from Emmy-nominated television director Stephen Gyllenhaal.
Paris Trout is both a tautly-woven chamber piece and an operatic tragedy. Dennis Hopper, displaying wonderful economy in a tight-lipped performance, is Trout, a landowner, storekeeper and money-lender to whom most in the complacent Georgian community are beholden.
Consumed by debilitating racism and bigotry, Trout enacts his own private law with shocking consequences, verbally and sexually abusing his repressed wife Hanna (Barbara Hershey) and taking violent criminal action when a young black man accuses him of defaulting on a car hire purchase deal.
With immaculate pacing and terrific performances, including Ed Harris as Hanna's lawyer-lover, Gyllenhaal refuses to shy away from the ugly face of Dexter's novel. Paris Trout confronts with the detailed exactness of Truman Capote or Harper Lee's grasp of bitter racial and class distinction. For Hopper's measured performance alone — a loan-shark's descent into madness — Paris Trout is grimly fascinating, disturbing stuff.
• Anne Woodman