In general, I don't like knowing too much about films before I see them—but once I see them, I like to be able to find out as much about them as my interest warrants. Corbin Bersen's Rust was one of those where, having seen the film, I just wanted to dig and dig and dig and dig. What I found was that the story behind the film was just as interesting—maybe even more so—than the film itself.
To start with, I was contacted by a publicist wanting to know if I'd be interested in offering an advance quote for a new Sony DVD release. I knew nothing more about it than some second-hand word-of-mouth reporting that the project was kind of a Canadian version of a Sherwood Pictures film. So my reply to the publicist was the usual: I'll take a look, but no promises. I am not a blurb factory for hire.
So I was pretty taken aback when the film started. With little to no preamble, the camera closes in on director/star Corbin Bernsen's eyes as he faces an off-camera presence. He's in a church, and he's confessing—no, accusingly lamenting—his loss of faith. And from there Bernsen's character emerges into a harshly beautiful and pure winter landscape... and the midst of a nagging mystery.
Bernsen plays Jimmy, a small-town Saskatchewan high school hero who outgrew the town and, after a fashion, ran away to become a minister. When his pastorate falls apart, he comes back to town—just in time to discover that his childhood best friend Travis, developmentally disabled, has confessed to an arson that killed an entire family. The community wants to move on, but Jimmy feels that something just isn't quite right. As he ferrets out the truth, he also confronts the parochial dynamics of the community and his family—friends who can't forgive him for going away, or for coming back; a father who has never wanted much to do with his son; and a sister who can't abide Jimmy's friendship with her ex-husband. It's too small a town for too much drama.
In Rust—an agrarian term for an insidious fungus that can destroy an entire crop of wheat if left unchecked—Corbin Bernsen has crafted an absorbingly human mystery... and at the center of it is, perhaps, a once-in-a-lifetime performance from Lloyd Allen Warner as Travis. You will not soon forget the intensity of his jailhouse-interview scenes with Bernsen, nor his tortured visage as a farmhouse burns to the ground behind him.
As the film progressed, in fact, I was thinking: "Bernsen I know; and I think I recognize the cop. But who are the rest of these actors? And why haven't I run across this guy playing Travis? This doesn't feel at all like a Sherwood Pictures film!" (As it turns out, Sherwood and Bernsen's Team Cherokee simply have similar co-production and distribution deals with Provident-Sony.)
Absorbingly Human Story
So here's the deal. Rust is not only absorbingly human because of Jimmy's passion for Travis, faith, and justice; it’s absorbingly human because of the way Bernsen made the film, too.
You may have heard about Kyle MacDonald, and his project back in 2005 to trade his way from a red paperclip all the way up to a house. Bernsen came into the picture when he offered to trade a role in his film Donna on Demand for MacDonald's up-traded snow globe. The town of Kipling, Saskatchewan then traded the coveted house for Bernsen's film role—and after casting Kipling local Nolan Hubbard in Demand, Bernsen was so taken by the town and its residents that he offered to return and make an entire movie there... if Kipling would pony up and raise the financing themselves.
When Kipling came through with a couple hundred individual $1000 investments, the deal was on—and Bernsen custom-wrote Rust for Kipling and cast almost the entire movie from its residents. It's a remarkable story you won't want to miss on the DVD's special features.
And you won’t believe what you learn about Mr. Warner.
Yes, the conclusion to Rust is somewhat forced if redemptive. But if the future of indie filmmaking looks an awful lot like Rust... well, that wouldn't be such a bad thing.
Rust is rated PG for thematic material, some disturbing images, smoking and mild language. The film is mature and engrossing—and I think you could sit down with the whole family to watch. Anyone who likes a mystery should be up for this.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened an advance cut of Rust on DVD.