A murder in a sleepy town at the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains refuels a longtime feud between two of the community’s most powerful clans. The new sheriff, ex-Green Beret Justin Wise, who came to Blue Ridge to get a fresh start with his daughter and ex-wife, quickly realizes there is much more to this place than meets the eye. As he and his two deputies start investigating, every clue leads them to a new suspect. Suddenly, Sheriff Wise finds himself in a race against time to solve the murder before “mountain justice” takes over, and the townspeople take the law into their own hands.
Like any good whodunit, Blue Ridge has a healthy dose of misdirection aimed at keeping the audience guessing. Who wanted the local, but wildly unpopular developer killed?
The clues are there, but this movie demands that you pay attention to put the pieces together, right from the start — when Justin Wise (Johnathon Schaech), the new sheriff, interrupts a robbery in progress. When he handles business, one against three, it establishes him as the former Green Beret good guy who does not gladly suffer fools. When he smiles, however, you never know what he’s really thinking.
But it’s at the Blue Ridge County Apple Festival, the biggest day on the locals’ calendar, when the mystery takes flight. Vivian McGrath-Keagan wants to sell the locals on her idea of constructing the Eagle’s Nest Golf Resort, an idea in which she has already invested $2.25 million in down-payment funds. No sooner than Vivian lauds rural Blue Ridge County as “one of the few places safe to raise a family,” she ends up dead in the woods.
Was it her husband, Lem? Was it the woman’s father, Cliff McGrath, on whom Vivian “pulled a Jacob and Esau and tricked out of his land,” as the deputy puts it? Was it Jeremiah Wade, the head of the South end of a Northern feud with the McGraths? Was it Jim Pierce, on whose land cows graze? Or his wife, Nancy, whose muddy boots clearly reveal she’s not entirely truthful? Or was it somebody else? Can Sheriff Wise and two deputies figure it out? Especially when one of the deputies’ only strengths is Barney Fife-like comic relief?
The sheriff hearkens back to his military days in the desert, when water was the most important commodity in a parched and barren land and realizes it’s the key to solving this crime too. “Because you can’t have a cow drinking out of a water hazard on the 14th hole,” he says. While some might argue just the contrary — that cows, water and a good 4-iron could elevate golf to must-see status — it helps the sheriff find Vivian’s killer before her father’s deadline before “mountain justice will take over.”
One of the strengths of this movie is the surprising way it casts against stereotypes. The mayor of this Appalachian city is African-American and female. Cliff McGrath may sound like Jed Clampett, but played by Canadian actor Graham Greene, he’s obviously of Indian heritage. There’s more diversity than you might expect in a movie where, figuratively speaking, Agatha Christie meets Deliverance.
With the exception of the Jacob and Esau reference, it’s not a faith movie. The only thing Dove audiences might find objectionable is the violence, but it’s hardly gratuitous. The sheriff uses it to thwart a robbery, to stop a potential duel and, when he finally tracks down the killer, to deftly disarm a suspect.
That said, Blue Ridge merits the Dove-approved Seal for Ages 12+ for its positive portrayal of family and community, even when the families have a few warts to overcome.
The Dove Take:
It’s a diverse whodunit that forces you to pay attention.