Out of Exile (2023) Review
Out of Exile was directed and written by Kyle Kauwika Harris (Prone to Violence, Heel’D) and stars Adam Hampton (The Jurassic Games, Deadland), Kyle Jacob Henry (Ratpocalypse, Prom Bandits), Ryan Merriman (Portal, A Sunday Horse), Hayley McFarland (Winged Creatures, Agnes), Wilson Navas (Defiants, Tied), Karrie Cox (Kill or be Killed, Don’t Leave Home), Rebecca Bartlett (Impact, Pax Masculina), and Peter Greene (Blue Streak, The Child). It follows a group of thieves as they try to repair their personal lives while the ramifications of a failed armoured truck heist come crashing down on top of them.
The Plot: Returning to the well of the armoured truck, Harris doesn’t start or end Out of Exile with the promise of anything new, but he does provide a solid level of craftsmanship to a dime-a-dozen plotline that most filmmakers manage to fumble.
Immediately, Harris offers the expected heist, with Gabriel (Hampton), his brother Wesley (Henry), and Marcos (Navas) quickly getting themselves into even more trouble when Wesley shoots one of the guards. The film sets a standard that it can’t live up to, as far as propulsion goes; subplots revolving around the core narrative are introduced, with FBI agents Solomon (Merriman) and Jordan (Cox) moving on the case and investor Rader (Greene) offering another job before the ten-minute mark is even crossed. Most of the ingredients are present, but the script soon gets bogged down with prerequisites before making its own impression.
Pressure is applied within the first third of Out of Exile and it at first seems like Harris might achieve his low-key epic, but instead of tying the already present elements into a tighter knot, there’s just another helping of subplots as Gabriel’s daughter Dawn (McFarland) and Wesley’s girlfriend Mandy (Bartlett), along with more miscellaneous cops and gang members enter the fray to split the difference on the attention paid to each of the already mentioned threads. None of these tangents are incompetently done, and the film eventually finds a throughline in Rader’s other job offer which leads to a decent ending, but there’s just too much and not enough to handle.
The Characters: Although there are some slight differences from the mountain of other criminals and cops, there’s again just not enough variation or exemplary acting for the participants in this job for anyone to be memorable.
In the crooks department, there’s nary a change to be found – Gabriel has just gotten out of prison after 16 years of incarceration and wants to let go of the criminal lifestyle in order to live something resembling a normal life alongside the fledgling Dawn; requiring jobs to be executed perfectly to get there. Whereas Wesley is a recently returned veteran whose anger at the world – unexplained as it is – has turned him into a walking weapon that just wants the high life. Other collaborators like Marcos are present but frustratingly familiar in the same ways that the brothers are.
Law-abiding characters are similarly standard, but Solomon at least has a somewhat different set of motives. Beyond doing his job and providing for his family, it’s mentioned that his father was at the Waco standoff and was made a hero, which has left Solomon with shoes to fill. Those around him make that clear and he doesn’t like hearing it, sarcastically blowing off remarks while still trying to prove others wrong. Jordan doesn’t get a little something like her partner does. She’s just a typical strong feminine touch to balance the struggling ones related to the criminals.
Side characters like Rader, those under his thumb, and assorted assets to the investigators pop up and spout a few lines that plainly fit them into the proceedings (including an informant played by wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts), but ultimately Out of Exile fails to provide a strong basis for the crooks, limiting interest in their success.
The Drama: Superficially the film is about the robberies the characters commit and the search that follows, but Harris puts emphasis on the more dramatic ramifications than he does to more action-based explosivity.
Murder is what drives the divide between the criminals, with the truck guard’s death forcing Gabriel, Wesley, and Marcos to lay low and argue amongst themselves over that split second decision. This aspect of Out of Exile never really lands, as aside from their spurious yelling match right after it happens and a later reveal that the man died, it hardly comes into play even though it could have with a couple of risks involved. Even after this, Wesley is brought back into his brother’s plans as though the movie didn’t make a point out of mentioning it.
Between felonious activities lies an examination of the lives of the men. There are some satisfying conversational scenes, such as Gabriel’s talks with his father about the lack of chances the family had, and a similar scene in which the sentiment is shared by Marcos which helps to underline the motives, but it’s all surface-level. What works better are the scenes in which Wesley’s post-war life is examined. Out of Exile watches as the man stumbles his way into trouble with minimal ways to get himself out of it, eventually falling farther in with Rader. Deeper introspection isn’t offered, and the sombre stuff gets old fast, but there’s at least a veneer of emotion.
Beneath all of that lies the repairing relationship between Gabriel and Dawn, which is generic as it gets. She has been working at a café and deals with a violent and controlling ex-boyfriend who puts her in the hospital. He isn’t wanted despite this, although is able to make a breakthrough and get the dynamic between them on the road to recovery. Beat for beat predictable. That sentiment isn’t necessarily bad, but Out of Exile offers all these setups with a limited and underwhelming sense of payoff. Harris isn’t wasting time per se, but without a greater understanding of all of these ideas, they just feel like ideas that need more time to cook.
The Technics: Making his narrative feature debut, Harris shows a directorial competence that could grow into something remarkable down the line, but this outing isn’t showing anything particularly special yet.
Despite its low budget, Out of Exile has a sharp look to it. In the literal sense, it appears big-screen ready as the camera quality lacks the digital sheen that most movies made on a similar level have. In a more creative sense, cinematographer Charles E. Elmore (Free Facts, Flipping the Heartland) does a decent job of selling the decay that the main characters live in, although the lighting budget isn’t exactly permissive of greater stylistics. Unfortunately, the audio and its related categories don’t stack up. Cory Perschbacher’s (The Dark Sisters, Los Americanos) music doesn’t add anything throughout the whole film, some of the dialogue seems to blow out the mixing, and the occasionally bad acoustics don’t assist.
At 107 minutes, the runtime could’ve used some heavy editing. With a plot that’s less of a whole and more of a conglomeration of subplots and tangents and a script that’s light on creativity, some of said beats just don’t belong. Gabriel’s dealings with Dawn’s boyfriend, discussions of a man robbing his own bank, and dialogue/acting-intensive moments don’t have much bearing on the story or insight to add; most of the dialogue isn’t worth sitting through anyway (fifty percent of it is “fuck”).
Chalking another one up in the generic crime/drama pile, Out of Exile is a slightly more competent outing than most. However, it’s too long, too thin, and too serious for it to be a contender amongst hundreds of similar features.