I’ve just had the great pleasure of watching “The World Made Straight”, a 2015 drama film directed by David Burris in his directorial debut, which is based on the novel of the same name penned by Ron Rash.
The film opens with a partial reconstruction of the Shelton Laurel massacre in January 1863 during the American Civil War, during which a number of residents of the Shelton Laurel Valley in Madison County, North Carolina were executed by Confederate soldiers – including 13 year old David Shelton, who was shot ten times.
We then move to 1970s North Carolina, where we are introduced to 17 year old Travis Shelton, played by Jeremy Irvine (“War Horse”), a high school drop-out who has a difficult relationship with his father.
Travis is introduced to a local small-time drug dealer, Leonard Shuler (Noah Wyle – “E.R”, “Donnie Darko”), a former school teacher. Following a run-in with shady local marijuana farmer Carlton Toomey (country music legend Steve Earle) Travis ends up in hospital. During his stay in the hospital he begins to read about local history – his interest having been stirred by some books he saw at Leonard’s home.
Following his release from hospital Travis finds himself homeless, leading him to pitch up at the trailer Leonard shares with his drug-addict girlfriend Dena (Minka Kelly “The Roommate”, “Charlie’s Angels”) looking for a place to stay.
Through Leonard, Travis learns more about his family’s history and the massacre of 1863, and begins to study to try to better himself with Leonard’s help and support.
The massacre is central to the film, as it continues to divide the small Appalachian community, which adds to the theme running throughout of just how hard it can be to tell who is on whose side. Travis and Leonard’s fates become ever more entwined as the history of their community, and its corrupt present lead to a violent showdown…
On the acting front, the two main characters are portrayed very convincingly by Jeremy Irvine and Noah Wyle, whilst Steve Earle is particularly effective is his sinister role. Minka Kelly, too, has a significant part to play and does her job admirably – a world away from the glamorous world of the “Charlie’s Angels” TV remake.
Visually, the film is superb. The cinematography is top notch, equally effective whether depicting the incredible natural beauty of North Carolina, or the bleakness that can be found sometimes in isolated rural community life.