Bill Paxton's next-to-last film showcases the much-loved actor playing a bad guy, Wayne Caraway, not a role we are always accustomed to from him. "Mean Dreams" is a love story/coming-of-age drama focusing on Jonas (Josh Wiggins), his new-found friend, Casey (Sophie Nelisse) and her dangerous father, Wayne.
Fifteen-year-old Jonas lives a very solitary life on a ramshackle farm with his uncommunicative father and depressed mother. He has already dropped out of school to spend all of his time aiding his father with farm work. When 15-year-old Casey and her father move into the vacant farmhouse next door, a friendship quickly develops between the two lonely teens.
Wayne has been hired by the local Chief of Police (Colm Feore), but he insists in his conversations with Casey that their time in this small forsaken community will be brief. He is violently opposed to Casey's friendship with Jonas, and after Jonas witnesses one of Wayne's deadly drug deals, the two kids make a run for it with a bag full of stolen cash.
Set in the stark, bleak countryside of Northern Ontario, Canada, "Mean Dreams" has a plot which coincides perfectly with the harsh landscape. Jonas and Casey have made a life-threatening decision, and the terrain they must navigate is as unrelenting as the men chasing them.
Both Nelisse and Wiggins already have established careers. Sophie played the role of Liesel Memimger in "The Book Thief" (2013) and won a Genie Award for her performance in "Monsieur Lazhar" (2011). Wiggins starred in "Max" (2015), about a boy and his relationship with his dead brother's dog returned from Afghanistan.
So, as seasoned actors, their portrayals provide depth and substance to these two vulnerable characters. They are equally accomplished here, and without their moving performances, "Mean Dreams" would have failed miserably.
Paxton makes a concerted effort as the despicable father/cold- blooded killer, but, as I've written in the past, one can only do so much with a less-than-perfect script. Written by Kevin Coughlin and Ryan Grassby, "Mean Dreams" begins with an interesting premise, infused with a few chilling scenes, but the showdown at the end of the film featuring Paxton is not as intense as the situation demands. Not Paxton's fault ---
Opinion: Mild See It Now!
Perhaps no actor can play an abusive father as effectively as the late Bill Paxton. The veteran died only a month ago at age 61, and "Mean Dreams" is his next-to-last film. While his portrayal here as Wayne Caraway, a local cop with a 15-year-old daughter, is disturbing, it is not nearly as chilling as his memorable role in the 2001 movie "Frailty", which he also directed.
Even with the presence of Paxton, "Mean Dreams" would not have worked without solid performances from its two young leads, Josh Wiggins and Sophie Nelisse. When new-kid-on-the-block (actually the farm) Casey Caraway (Nelisse) first espies her rural neighbor, Jonas Ford (Wiggins), she is friendly enough, but the young lad is clearly smitten with the pretty blond. Their mutual attraction grows quickly, but Casey's mean-spirited father, Wayne, takes an immediate dislike to Jonas, which includes a hair-raising episode of water boarding.
The plot involves stolen drug money, murder and the quandary the pair face when they must decide on the direction of their young lives. It's a decision no 15-year-old should ever have to make, but at least they have each other. "Mean Dreams" builds some tension. We're never sure how Wayne will react in certain situations, and that's a credit to Paxton. He never looks the part of the villain, and that contributes to his scary turn as Wayne.
Veteran actor Colm Feore is the local police chief, and Wayne's boss. His portrayal is pure professionalism that comes with nearly 150 TV and film credits.
"Mean Dreams" is a decent diversion, and just knowing it is one of Bill Paxton's last movies is reason enough to see it.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!