In a world of dying original ideas, I’m always desperate to find new content that lives up to the classic stories of my favorite film and television genres. Recently, I was led to Wayward Pines, a 10 episode mini series that meshes a Twin Peaks atmosphere with dystopian elements of 1984, Dark City and Planet of the Apes. The outcome was thrilling, and creative, and an adrenaline fueled experience I recommend everyone watch. However, what I took away most from my Wayward Pines journey was how emotionally invested I became in Matt Dillon’s portrayal of main protagonist Ethan Burke.
Matt Dillon has been in movies my entire life. Many of you were probably forced to read The Outsiders via your summer reading list by at least 8th grade. Because reading and summer break go together about as well as lamb and tuna fish, and because you thought you were resourceful, you likely saw Dillon’s portrayal of Dallas in the 1983 film adaption of The Outsiders at a fairly young age. He would go onto do The Flamingo Kid, Drug Store Cowboy, Singles, Mr. Wonderful, and of course, films you’ve mostly definitely seen, Wild Things and There’s Something About Mary. His filmography is long, plentiful, and spans five decades.
In looking through Dillon’s filmography, I started to feel like I’ve taken him for granted. What do you do when you’ve taken someone for granted? You dig through their history and find awesome work they’ve done that most people either didn’t see or have long stopped appreciating, obviously. This search led me to a plot of happenstance in 1997’s Albino Alligator (Cool name, right?). I’ll admit, the cast also featuring Lieutenant Dan, Aragorn and Sidney Prescott’s boyfriend doesn’t hurt. If that wasn’t enough to hook you, Alligator is the directorial debut of President Frank Underwood himself, Kevin Spacey.
An accidental hit and run after a small-time robbery leads to a high-speed chase, a few dead cops, and launches a hostage situation in a dive bar. The patrons of the bar are all familiar faces, everyone from lippy Faye Dunaway to rough and grumbling M. Emmet Walsh, who you know from everything, including Blade Runner and Camp Nowhere. Three criminals stroll into a bar, the good folks of the bar try and play hero, cops surround the building, and then someone dies.
Ringleader Dova, Matt Dillon, has an early moment of reflection with himself in the bar’s bathroom. As he looks in the mirror, he questions why he didn’t get married, have kids, and live a normal life. An insight into the mind of a man that seemingly could have just as easily been a schoolteacher as a criminal. The situation is made worse with Dova’s brother Milo, Gary Sinise, seriously injured, and their partner Law, William Fichtner, acting violently and on the verge of being totally out of control.
In a moment of clarity, hostage Guy Foucard, played by Viggo Mortensen, suggests that in order for the trio of criminals to escape the bar, that coincidentally has no alternate exits because the speakeasy was built in the 20s and the tunnel routes were sealed when prohibition ended, they should pretend to be hostages and release themselves one-by-one out the front door. Milo, Law and Dova look momentarily befuddled by the great suggestion, and then quickly start mapping out their escape based on Foucard’s plan.
You’ve never heard of an albino alligator? You’re apparently not alone. Law, using a metaphor for sacrificing a move in billiards, describes a scenario where an albino alligator is born, and, due to the genetic weakness of an all white predator, is used as bait to draw out and distract rival packs of alligators, where they’re easily flanked and killed while feeding on the albino gator. This story seems to be a work of fiction based on the predatory nature of alligators, but one can assume this deliberate description of the movie’s title will most certainly come back into play during the third act.
At this point of the movie, the plan spirals out of control. Foucard turns out to be a gun runner from Canada wanted by the government, Milo wants to turn himself into the police, and Dova and Law turn to physical force to keep everyone in line. The drama culminates with Milo taking his own life in the middle of the bar, Dova forcing hostage Janet, Faye Dunaway, to murder another hostage, and the police deciding to stop waiting around outside, getting Foucard and Law killed in the process.
Where is our Albino Alligator? Dova walks out the front door and is treated by the surrounding news crews as a hero survivor of a hostage situation while his friends are all dead. He walks away scot-free, and Janet is forced to cover for him due to her own sins, but what does Dova lose in the process? The bad guy winning usually never feels like a victory for either the viewer or the character. I think that’s a reflection of real life. The bad guys often win, and everyday average people can’t always save the day, but being a bad guy always comes with a price.
Dova lost his brother, and his partner, but he also lost a part of his humanity. At the start of the film, he was desperately seeking answers as to why he didn’t live a more normal life. By the end of the film, we’re asking how this guy could ever be normal. Out of circumstance, Dova becomes a monster right in front of our eyes.
As a thriller, Albino Alligator was a pleasant surprise. Had I seen this film in 1997 I might have been in total awe of the boldness and creativity of the ending. Our main protagonist is also our main antagonist, and while he loses his brother, he’s never punished in the way society would deem as just. As someone who has seen Primal Fear, Seven and No Country for Old Men, we’ve seen the bad guy win. However, I think Alligator is special in the way that Matt Dillon is fighting against himself, and we’re left not knowing the emotional damage the events of the film have caused his character.
Was this Matt Dillon’s best performance ever? Have you seen Crash? What I took away from Dillon’s performance in Albino Alligator is that he’s one of the very best actors at visually communicating internal struggle, and a guy who feels tortured by decisions on screen. I saw this tenfold in Wayward Pines, and turning back the dial to see a precursor performance that led to elements of a future character was enlightening. I don’t know what’s on the horizon for Matt Dillon, but I’m certainly done taking his career for granted.
Do you remember Albino Alligator or have a favorite Matt Dillon film? Are you a fan of Wayward Pines? Tell us about it below! Want to check out Albino Alligator for yourself? Head over to Amazon to pick it up today! Make sure to check out Season 2 of Wayward Pines starting May 25th on FOX.Tags: 1997, 90s, Albino Alligator, Dova, Drama, Ethan Burke, Faye Dunaway, Frankie Faison, Gary Sinise, Joe Mantegna, John Spencer, M. Emmet Walsh, Matt Dillon, Skeet Ulrich, Thriller, Viggo Mortensen, Wayward Pines, William Fichtner