Sure Fire, 1990

At an unidentified, vestigially western community in rural Utah, two old friends, a real estate prospector named Wes (Tom Blair) and a struggling, third-generation rancher named Larry (Robert Ernst), sit at the counter of a diner and bide their unhurried morning over bottomless cups of hot coffee, reminiscing over their last, uneventful hunting trip and engaging in idle town gossip by envisaging scenarios for the mysterious disappearance of a local woman (a baffling case that ironically unfolds in a new lead during their casual breakfast meeting). Boasting of a busy schedule as a result of his thriving speculative business, Wes presumptuously enlists the underemployed Larry on a personal errand to the pawn shop in order to buy a hunting rifle and ammunition for his adolescent son Phillip (Phillip R. Brown) who will be joining them on his first deer hunting trip, before instinctively announcing to the diner proprietor that he will pick up the tab for the two meals. It is this implicit (and perhaps intentional) penchant for grandiose gestures and self-absorbed myopia that inevitably betrays a hint of the film’s trajectory when, unable to convince a bank manager named Dick (Rick Blackwell) to invest in a “sure fire” partnership venture to lure potential buyers from overpopulated cities in California and Arizona into property investment in the quaint town (perhaps sponsoring periodic real estate junkets), Wes then shifts focus to the subject of Larry’s delinquent loans and magnanimously instructs Dick to draft the overdue interest payment from his own account: a condescending gesture that not only tests the tenuous relationship of the lifelong friends, but ultimately exposes the source of a deeper, underlying gulf between Wes and his silently-suffering family.

Sure Fire is an exquisitely tactile, organic, and quietly haunting exposition on narcissism, alienation, and bravado. Jon Jost creates intertextuality by interweaving natural environment and psychological terrain that reflect the characters’ sense of emotional isolation and estrangement: the non-confronting dialogue between Wes’ wife Bobbi (Kristi Hager) and Larry’s wife Ellen (Kate Dezina) as Ellen pines for her college-aged daughter and Bobbi wistfully reflects on her growing estrangement from her family’s independently evolving lives; Wes’ elaborately detailed, instructional coaching of Bobbi in an attempt to manipulate a handyman into performing housekeeping and repairs on a neglected property for a prospective buyer that literally imposes his own will on others (note the disembodied shot of Bobbi obstructed by a row of kitchen cabinets as she listens to Wes’ reading of a newspaper article); the repeated images of ambient television news broadcasts that serve to fill the void of silence in Wes and Larry’s households. Jost further incorporates fluid tracking of endless highways and shots of otherwordly, autumnal color-filtered trees (punctuated by written, allusive text that recalls the multi-function of physically overlaid text in the films of Yvonne Rainer) that similarly reflect the film’s desolate internal and geographic landscapes. In chronicling the human repercussions of individualism, self-motivation, and entrepreneurial aggression, Sure Fire serves as an indigenously rooted cultural document of determined self-reliance, internalized emotion, and eruptions of unforeseen, irreconcilable violence.

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