Colourful Canadian money probably isn’t easy to hide, but it sure photographs nicely. A small fortune of pink fifties, green twenties, purple tens, and blue fives mix with boring brown hundreds in this lo-fi Canadian thriller. Seaweed farmer (yes, that’s correct) Kevin Doucette (Stephen Oates) stumbles upon a bag of bright Canadian cash while sweeping the shore. Kevin is hard on his luck and struggles to provide for his wife, Sam (Liane Balaban), and their impending baby. Life is tough for any hired hands on Prince Edward Island, especially salt of the earth folks like Kevin. The seaweed racket just isn’t what it used to be.
A Small Fortune offers a hint of Fargo and a dash of A Simple Plan as Kevin decides to keep the big bag o’ cash. It’s obviously not going to end well, especially as he hides the bounty from Sam after surprising her with bountiful lobster dinner that arouses suspicion. She wants Kevin to schlep off to Alberta like the other men on the island did. He, however, wants to stay and believes in the strength of being a Maritimer. But when he finds a boat washed ashore that’s filled with blood, seawater, and more money, things go awry. Cue evil goon Troy (Joel Thomas Hynes), a city slicker with a wallet chain ripped from 1990s B-cinema.
One bad decision admittedly invites another as Kevin stumbles somewhat implausibly towards El Dorado. However much the poor choices inspire one’s eyes to roll—and mine did often, including with one audible groan—they play authentically within the world A Small Fortune builds. The shores of Prince Edward Island aren’t known for their criminality, and Kevin’s behaviour violates the innocent landscape.
The spirit of lo-fi Canuxploitation is alive and well in this pulpy thriller. Writer/director Adam Perry knows his terrain and draws upon the folksy cove community of the island to challenge expectations at every turn. On one hand, A Small Fortune is a charming slice of Canadiana. On the other, it’s grisly violent rampage. One hardly expects such a bloodbath amid such picturesque Canadiana. Lobster bites probably rank among PEI’s most violent crimes. As Anne Shirley might say, the island is a “perfect graveyard of buried hopes.”
The film wears its maple leaf on its sleeve by casting Kim’s Convenience star Andrea Bang as Susan, a plucky rookie cop eager to prove herself and get back to Toronto. Bang offers an unlikely heroine, yet carries herself with remarkable authority. There’s a hint of Clarice Starling in Susan’s idealism, not to mention the petite frame that inspires many men to underestimate her. Smartly cast, too, is Hynes as Troy. The East Coast actor has found a groove playing dark, nasty, and violent fellas.
Oates, meanwhile, more than capably fills the role of the weathered reluctant hero. Kevin situates A Small Fortune within a well-worn, perhaps timeless, Canadian tradition of saps down on their luck faced with the reality that life will be better elsewhere. Yet Perry’s thriller suggests that these small towns and the simple pleasures they bring are worth fighting for. A Small Fortune is a small thriller that surprises.
A Small Fortune is in digital release beginning March 18.
It also screens at the Canadian Film Fest on Friday, March 25 at 9PM ET & midnight on Super Channel Fuse.
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