Tribeca 2024 Review: LAKE GEORGE, L.A. Based Neo-Noir About the Absurdity of Life (and Death)

Shea Whigham, Carrie Coon, Glenn Fleshler, and Max Casella star in director Jeffrey Reiner's darkly comic noir.

Contributing Writer
Tribeca 2024 Review: LAKE GEORGE, L.A. Based Neo-Noir About the Absurdity of Life (and Death)

Neo-noir is clearly once again in a fighting fit, as evidenced by all the films coming out that somehow reference the canon, liberally mixing it with other genres like horror, sci-fi or – in the case of Jeffrey Reiner’s Lake George – dark comedy.

Don (Shea Whigham) is out of jail after doing 10 years behind bars. He is also unfortunately out of job options -- all of his contacts are either out of business or dead -- and out of money. He decides to try his luck with a clearly criminal acquaintance from the past, Armen (Glenn Fleshler), who lives in a monstrous Glendale mansion and wears velvety tracksuits.

Armen technically owes Don money; sadly, Don also technically didn’t deliver on his last job, for which he eventually went to jail. Armen proposes a compromise, meaning that he threatens to shoot Don until he agrees to “take care” of Armen’s paramour and partner aptly named Phyllis, who just knows too much.

Don is clearly not a killer, but he dutifully goes through the motions of staking out Phyllis (Carrie Coon), capturing and delivering her to the middle of nowhere, where he promptly proves he cannot go through with the actual deed. Instead, Phyllis offers him a compromise of her own, a plan that will surely not backfire in any way on either of them. Surely.

Lake George emanates a lot of respect for classic noir, what with the Phyllis reference and all the talk about insurance agents, but there are a few tweaks here and there that keep things interesting. This is technically a "film soleil," a sunlit deviation from the original canon where characters inhabiting it don’t need darkness to be assholes.

The plot is surely familiar and seemingly sets up a recognizable dynamic: it’s impossible not to expect Don to be double crossed by either Phyllis or Armen; possibly both at the same time. Curiously, while noirs, both classic and new, tend to be overcrowded with different characters to keep the plot complicated, Reiner’s version is almost intimate and keeps its focus steadily on the two protagonists.

Both Don and Phyllis at first also seem like variations of people we’ve seen in noir before: unsatisfied, tortured souls who can’t quit the game, even when it’s obviously not good for them. There is a certain twist on their personalities too, though.

Both, but especially Whigham’s hero, seem to be more weighed down by time, experience, the choices of their past and life in general. Don isn’t motivated by greed, even though one scene towards the end looks a bit like an homage to Erich von Stroheim’s classic film. He just merely needs some reason, any reason, to move forward. Whigham doesn’t get a lot of leading roles; too bad, since he shines here as a reluctant noir hero who is constantly tired and suffers from panic attacks.

Carrie Coon is a special kind of a femme fatale with such an upbeat, “I can fix this” attitude that sometimes she almost seems like a figment of Don’s imagination, a walking motivational meme he needs to keep going. Her chemistry with Whigham, whom she previously met with on screen in Fargo’s third season, is palpable, as they both seem to enjoy their roles and each other’s company immensely.

Their banter is also responsible for a lot of humor in the film, which at times is actually reminiscent of the aforementioned Fargo universe. From an early scene with Don getting equipped for his task to the very last confrontation, Lake George is filled with this very particular sense of melancholy and profound absurdity of life that is always somehow more evident when the sun is shining brightly. 

The film enjoys its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival

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Carrie CoonGlenn FleshlerJeffrey ReinerMax CasellaShea Whigham

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