Austin Film Festival Review: Buck Alamo: Sonny Carl Davis Shines Like Austin Burnout


Sonny Carl Davis as the titular thief in fading Buck Alamo

You saw Buck Alamo. He’s the old man who sells electrified geodes to the Southern Congress, drives a pickup truck rustier than steel, and tells tales of the good old days before it all fell apart. He’ll brag about playing Threadgill’s once or twice, with the weight of knowing it was probably a slow Tuesday when UT was out.

Buck Alamo – or, to confer its full title, Buck Alamo or (A Spooky Ballad) is a rambling tale that pokes the bubble in the myth of a certain type of old Austin. Eli Cody (played by Austin mainstay Sonny Carl Davis) adopted the Buck Alamo name long enough ago that only his pharmacist would know his real name; but he was born with a selfish dysfunction, fondly reminiscing with passers-by that he was the kind of failed minstrel the town used to honor.

But telling the story is a different measure to live with, especially for Dee (Lee Eddy, spectacularly fractured and furious), the girl who has spent years fearful of the next time that old drunk washes at her doorstep. The same goes for her sister, Caroline (Lorelei Linklater), who knows she’s the apple that hasn’t fallen so far from the tree. Now he is trying to get back into their life, just because he is facing a diagnosis from which he cannot clearly smile. It’s just time, and he’s wasted so much.

Not that he was really interested in making amends. “You made my life so hard,” he remembers to God when he attends the church he is stuck in like a limpet now that he is facing his mortality.

Yet writer / director Ben Epstein isn’t interested in indulging in his selfish mythology. Shadows of fantasy glide past him, like the rattlesnakes that occasionally glide across the floor of his cabin, or the voice of death (Bruce Dern’s growl) that provides narration and commentary on Buck’s fading days. .

It really is Davis’ nuanced performance that anchors Buck’s story in grief. It’s the old charmer, but the charm is worn thinner than the tulle, ready with an excuse, and then happy to bail out when someone sees through their act. The veteran actor taps into the same easy-going rambling nature that Ben Dickey tapped into when he played Blaze Foley in a tragic musical biopic Blaze, the story of a real-life outcast who couldn’t stop his wildest angels from sabotaging his genius. As Dickey said, “Killing yourself with drugs and alcohol, playing in dive bars, that sounds a little romantic. In life, it’s pathetic.”

But unlike Foley, or others whose song ended too soon, Alamo has had decades to do better, to be better, and his legs are too weak to run the Devil to the finish line. of his life. Davis surprises him as a man who considers himself old, but still can’t quite come to terms with his arthritic, sunken and faded reality.

Epstein brings broken lyricism and warm naturalism illuminated by fireplaces and beer logo neon lights, reminiscent of Buck. Slightly restructured since its world premiere at the Oldenburg Film Festival 2020, Buck’s slide into night’s version gets to the family business more quickly, removing some scenes of Buck being just Buck who added a bit of context, and has showed the old thug at his most charming. This montage is more focused on the damage it caused: after all, its wasted life story and inevitable final tragedy is more melancholy than truly sad. Epstein casts Buck as Abner in “I Hate To See The Sun Go Down Tonight” – too old to fix much, to adjust to his ways of changing, and maybe with just enough time to do something right. And, just as Scott Teems did for Hal Holbrook in the 2007 film version of the William Gay story (released under the This evening sun), he gives Davis a place for a performance that is both radical and understated carved out of age and regret.

Buck Alamo

North American premiere

Mon, Oct 25, 7 p.m., State Theater

Read our interview with star Sonny Carl Davis and director Ben Epstein, “Lonely Cosmic Cowboy“, October 22.

Austin Film Festival, October 21-30. Find all our news, reviews and interviews on

A version of this review was published as part of our coverage of the Oldenburg Film Festival 2020.

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