Durant’s Never Closes Review

Full disclosure: I am personally invested in this film, in a way. I have followed its production history since a friend of mine let me know he was facilitating the primary filming location, and quite accidentally I connected another friend of mine to the filmmakers in a producer role. In light of this my intent is to write the most impartial review of which I am capable.

durants never closes

Phoenix natives and adopted natives alike ought to be familiar with Durant’s restaurant on Central Avenue. It’s an old school, Rat Pack-influenced steakhouse where you enter via the back door, through the kitchen, into a dining and bar area soaked in red leather, dim lighting, and brown liquor. There’s an old-fashioned masculinity to the place that exudes its own special charm. All long-term Phoenix residents owe it to themselves to experience Durant’s at least once.

Maybe you already know this. And maybe you even know a little bit about its history. The founder’s mysterious past, and alleged mob connections, the restaurant’s reputation as a meeting spot for various unseemly characters and their unseemly plots, and the possible connection to the high-profile murder of an investigative reporter in the 70’s. Whatever your familiarity going in, this film is not at all concerned with getting you up to speed. In fact, it couldn’t be bothered to convey any concrete information about the history of Durant’s at all. Instead, its focus is squarely on Jack Durant himself. The man, the myth, etc.

As such, it’s best to go into Durant’s Never Closes with the appropriate expectations in place. On the surface, this is a Goodfellas for the city of Phoenix. But underneath, it’s something entirely different and unexpected. Largely plotless, the events of the film are not just linear, they’re impressionistic. The majority of the film takes place at some undefined point in the late 70’s, inside Durant’s itself, at old Jack’s favorite spot at the bar. Legend has it, Durant designed the acoustics of the bar area specifically so that while guests would have a hard time hearing the conversations in adjacent booths, one could easily eavesdrop on anyone in the place from one specific spot at the bar. Jack’s spot, naturally. So there he sits, sipping beer, listening in, chatting with the regulars, and occasionally flying into fits of violent rage when provoked.

The only times the movie ever leaves the restaurant is during the many Scorcese-esque flashback sequences that don’t so much tell the story about Durant’s life, but fill in various textures of his character. Interludes address details like his beloved English bulldogs, his history with various ex-wives, and in one particularly abstract sequence, his inspiration to conquer the Phoenix dining scene. These sequences range from brief comedy bits to long musings on relationships and character.

As Jack Durant, Tom Sizemore is mesmerizing. Truly. I don’t use that “movie critic” word lightly. He sinks into this character 100%, and never seems like he’s phoning it in. His rage, his ambition, his vulnerability, and his sorrow are all equally believable. Honestly, with a lesser performance at its center this film would have fallen apart. If his IMDb page is any indication Sizemore has been spreading himself pretty thin lately, accepting all manner of typecast “tough guy” roles, and it would be a shame if this performance were overlooked because of it. In fact, the acting all around is solid. Jon Gries of Napoleon Dynamite fame brings a lot of energy and humor to his small role as a fallen baseball star, and as Durant’s “one who got away”, Michelle Stafford lends the film a great deal of its emotional heft. Peter Bogdonovich meanwhile, sort of sleepwalks through his minor role, which is more or less a glorified cameo, but it’s nice to have some old Hollywood around.

Ultimately, Durant’s Never Closes is a film of, I’ll say specific appeal. The decision to leave the history vague in favor of looking deep inside Durant himself puts the spotlight on Sizemore’s performance. The non-linear, abstract approach to a figure virtually unknown outside of Arizona means I have a hard time seeing national audiences embracing the film. How damning that criticism is depends on the feelings of the folks who made it. The director, Travis Mills has been open about his intent to grow Phoenix’s own cinema scene. I know the movie is getting a limited theatrical run in Albuquerque New Mexico after its Phoenix run. I’m interested to see how it plays outside the valley.

Durant’s Never Closes is playing now through the 28th at Harkins Shea 14 theater.

Comments (2)

  1. Travis Mills

    Very good review. Thank you.

  2. Ernest J Mariano

    I saw the movie,and I agree…Sizemore nailed it! It’s an independent film;not a major Hollywood production! Definitely something us phoenix old timers ought to see, I enjoyed this film!

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