Dixieland may have worked better as a simple documentary on Mississippi. The film opens with a series of interviews of all kinds of residents- junkies, strippers, and small-town lifers, all who talk about life and death in rural America. The film opens with these interviews, and occasionally jumps back to them with no reason: Dixieland is a fiction film, and ultimately, the documentary interludes do more harm than good, taking the audience out of the already bland and distant story.
Dixieland’s story is almost as bland as they come: a southern story of crime and poverty with a good-hearted ex-con, a stripper with a heart of gold, “one last heist,” and a clearly doomed escape from a small town. The story goes as expected, and has a difficult time capturing an audience. However, despite how unremarkable the story is, the film is stacked with great performances. Chris Zylka and Riley Keough both deliver great performances as the two star-crossed lovers at the film’s center.
The film’s dialogue is often choppy and stilted, and only adds to the film’s blandness. Below the surface of the mishmash of tropes, there isn’t much there.The relationship between the two leads is at times compelling, but it seems that anytime we really start to feel for the two characters, we are pulled back out by the documentary segments. Although the interviews are interesting, they simply do not belong in the film.
Along with the documentary scenes, the film further tries to distract from the thin story with piles of technical flair. Often, the cinematography is quite stunning and beautiful, but it is implemented in a way that is simply distracting, especially with how heavily it leans on lens flares and other effects. The editing tries to imitate Terrence Mallick by creating abstract montages, but it again seems out of place, especially when placed in such a gritty environment and story. Occasionally, the editing style is so abstracted that it’s confusing.
In his directorial debut, Hank Bedford shows some potential, but has incredible difficulty keeping the focus on the story. Part of the issue is simply that the story is not compelling enough to focus on, but the ample distractions don’t improve the film by any means. There’s some technical skill in Dixieland but it all seems like flair meant to distract from a bland story with thin characters that has been told time and time again. Dixieland does nothing new, and is just another tired genre entry.