Directors: Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands
Running Time: 1:22
Release Date: 3/9/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 10, 2017
If someone had invented a place like the city of Uncertain, Texas, for a work of fiction, it would beggar belief. The local Sheriff says it's a place that is so far off the beaten path that, in order to find it, people would need to either know where they're going or be lost. It's on the border of Texas and Louisiana, although where that border actually is within the city limits has been a matter of debate since the city's founding—hence, the name. At least it would be a matter of debate if anyone who lives there gave a damn. What we get from Uncertain is that nobody does.
This documentary follows three inhabitants of the city, which has a sign announcing its population as 94 people. They're simple folks, of simple wants and, for the most part, even simpler needs. One of them has a steady but relaxed job as a guide for and fisherman on the local lake. One spends his nights hunting wild boar in the area and his days preparing for the hunt, while cutting and smoking the meat from a successful night. One wants to work, but he notes that people in this place basically retire once they reach the legal drinking age.
There aren't jobs here, and it's unlikely that any new jobs will be coming to the city anytime soon, if ever. The future of Uncertain is exactly what the city's name suggests, thanks to an infestation of a wild plant on the lake. It's only a matter of time before the lake becomes an island. The fish will die, and with the fish gone, there will be no reason for anyone to visit the lake. If the lake goes, so, too, does Uncertain. There's a scientist who has an idea of how to rid the lake of this weed, but the cost hushes a room full of people at a meeting in city hall.
We have a city that's dying because of a dying lake, and it just so happens that each of the three men whom directors Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands follow throughout the film is getting up there in years, could die within a decade on account of a disease, or has decided to track a resilient and ferocious animal that wants to keep its hold on its territory. Again, it would beggar belief if it weren't true.
It is true, though, and this is a film that gets a lot of truth from its subjects. These are men who don't care about much, but they do passionately care about the few things they want or need.
The city is living on a clock toward destruction. These men have their own clocks, ticking down the years—or, in the case of the man hunting a feral beast, possibly days—of routine that they have left. Why shouldn't they be forthright with the filmmakers? All of them are living on borrowed time, anyway. Two of them were in situations in which they could have been killed, but they ended up spending time in prison for crimes that resulted in the death of another human being. The other suffers from diabetes, but he can't stop himself from frequenting the local bars. There's nothing else to do.
He's Zach, whose body is covered in tattoos of diverse styles and who wears a straw cowboy hat. His doctor tells him that, if he keeps up his lifestyle, he'll end up on dialysis in a few years and dead by the age of 30.
The fisherman is 74-year-old Henry. His wife died a few years ago, and it turned him into a church-going man. Henry has a new girlfriend. His children are convinced she's with him for money. He hopes she'll be his new wife one day soon. After all, she shares the name of the woman to whom he was married for over 50 years.
Wayne, the hunter, has cameras set up on the boars' territory. A new hog has come to town—a big fella that he has dubbed "Mr. Ed," because of its horse-shaped head. He has been hunting it for a while now, although it's a sly beast that seems almost invincible. It doesn't help that, legally, Wayne can only own guns that were manufactured prior to the year 1899. He's a former felon. In his home state, he wouldn't be allowed to have any firearms. Texas law is a bit more lenient.
That's part of the appeal of Uncertain—not the guns, specifically, but the spirit of that sort of loophole. Since it's a border city, it always has been, according the aforementioned Sheriff, a makeshift home for outlaws and the like—people who would like to be able to get from one jurisdiction to the other, if there's a warrant out for their arrest in one state. It sounds like folklore from a bygone era, but here, sure enough, are people keeping up the spirit of the loophole.
They aren't escaping the law, of course, because Henry and Wayne served their time, while how Zach ended up in this place is a bit of a mystery. He seems to be the only person in town who wants out of Uncertain. He has plans to move to Austin, find a job, keep up with his insulin prescription, and find a girlfriend. Henry and Wayne seem to believe that they're still doing their time, each one atoning for a crime of which he now comprehends the weight. Uncertain is their final stop.
Uncertain simply observes these men, who are candid about everything, and the ways in which they cope with their troubled pasts and definitive futures. As the man said, it's the one guarantee in life, whether it be in Uncertain or anywhere else: Nobody gets out alive.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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