Film Review: Blue Iguana

Sam Rockwell takes on a crooked job in London, and then things get really twisted.
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Over the last year, Sam Rockwell won an Oscar for playing the racist cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and was announced as the star of an upcoming TV series about Bob Fosse. It seems like he’s finally through with the sort of loopy, barely released films—like Mr. Right and Better Living Through Chemistry—that used to pay the bills.

But they’re not quite through with him.                        

Shot two years ago in England, Blue Iguana is just reaching—briefly—theatres and it’s like a lot of Rockwell’s old filmography. It’s an ensemble picture. It’s got crime elements. It’s definitely low-budget and decidedly indie. And just when things begin to pall, Rockwell does something unexpected or unusual and perks everything up all over again.

It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good reminder of why Rockwell’s admirers have happily stuck with him for decades.

The plot has a British lawyer hiring two American cons to go to London and help her steal a mysterious package. She won’t tell them more than that, but then who has time? Before the movie is over, we’ll have several squabbling gangs of Cockney thugs, a small fortune in bearer bonds, many gory murders, a crooked ex-boyfriend and a nearly priceless necklace.

It’s all a bit stitched together, and the seams show (there is no reason for the London lawyer to go all the way to New York to hire muscle except to insert an American star into the cast). Some plot developments don’t make sense, and one-man filmmaking show Hadi Hajaig—who produced, directed, wrote and edited—has far too much faith in the hilarity of gory murder.

But the soundtrack, which dips heavily into the late-punk era, is lively and the clash of American, Cockney, posh British and sturdy Northern accents adds another kind of music. Ben Schwartz has a nice understated presence as Rockwell’s best friend, while Peter Ferdinando is both fearsome and comic as a mullet-headed menace with a mother complex.

Particularly charming is Phoebe Fox as Rockwell’s mysterious British employer, who creates her own, unique sexy-nerd image as a tightly wound woman in hair bun, glasses and sensible shoes. She’s a welcome change of pace for a film heroine, and not only because she’s also shown sloppily enjoying huge plates of hearty food. (Unfortunately, even this independent British film has to go all Hollywood in the end by having her take down her hair, take off her glasses and suddenly reveal that—why, good heavens!—she’s beautiful.)

But although this is an ensemble piece, it’s really Rockwell’s movie—a fact he reinforces whenever it’s his turn to take a solo and he steps forward and lets loose another jazzy improv of slightly off-center line readings and unexpected expressions. (His tortured attempts to put on a Cockney accent are a high point.) He’s not showboating—unlike other, scene-stealing actors, he’s always inthis movie. It’s just, whenever he’s on, it’s a better movie.

It’s just not the kind of movie he’s going to have to make anymore. Not since the Oscar; not since the announcement of that starring role on TV. There may still be a few left in the pipeline, like this delayed feature. But it’s guaranteed that those days of finding a tiny, oddball film on late-night cable and shouting, “Hey, Sam Rockwell’s in this!”—and then watching with a mixture of genuine pleasure, slight bewilderment and unexpected awe—are over.

They’re going to be missed.