A young man from Alabama is recruited to drive a slightly older man from the same state all the way from Montgomery up to West Virginia for some sort of entertainment venue. The young man doesn't question much more than the fact that he's going to make more money than he could have imagined in his grease-monkey garage job, so he never finds out during the drive that his cargo is the most famous country singer the world would ever know. However, since the kid doesn't really listen to music, it probably wouldn't have mattered if he had.
Have you ever found yourself in the company of someone so naive and unworldly that talking with them made your own somewhat ordinary life look like a carnival freak show? It must have been like this times 100 for Luke the Drifter ( a recording pseudonym Williams sometimes used) and Sorbonne, pronounced "sore bone" (as he calls the kid, based on his hometown or community.)
There is a good chance you'll never see this film in a theater near you. It was released in only seven cities for now. Little Rock is one of them because it was shot here and several of the actors and backers live here. Folks such as director Harry Thomason whom you might know from "Designing Women."
Henry Thomas (Elliot from E.T.) plays a convincing if somewhat too clean a Hank.
Some neighbors and friends of mine play bit parts, and it’s hard for me not to say they’re wonderful . One is Ray McKinnon. I don’t really know Ray, but he lives nearby and has been a big influence here in Little Rock since he moved here. His wife, Lisa Blount, died unexpectedly last year and there’s been a lot of local press about all that. He moved here with her because this is her hometown. If you’ve never heard of Ray, I’d strongly encourage you to get a copy of “The Accountant.” Marvelous work. Another small role in “The Last Ride” is played by Rick Dial. He was in Sling blade with Billy Bob Thornton, another Arkansas boy. Rick died last year, but he worked his whole adult life in a furniture store in Malvern, AR, which is owned by a client of mine. I met the man several times and it was always fun to hear him go on about his improbable shot at Hollywood fame.
The soundtrack which was supervised by by Benjy Gaither has some covers of Williams’ songs, a couple of which are sung by Jett Williams, the singer’s daughter born five days after his death. To have used any originals would have been far too expensive for a low-budget indie film such as this. Interestingly enough, Henry Thomas does play guitar and sing and it's not too far a stretch to imagine he could have pulled it off. Hell, if Gary Busey can imitate Buddy Holly and make you believe it, the possibilities are endless. But Thomason and Thomas himself felt as if it would be too much like typical Hollywood trickery and the idea was nixed.
That reminds me of something I've noticed lately, now that I'm a pensioner and have a lot of free time to watch these sorts of films on Encore or IFC or even LMC and other sorts of free but obscure channels on Comcast. I'll be watching a perfectly mediocre film and then, right there in some meaningless scene in the middle, a Bob Dylan tune will rear its hydra-like head. Is Dylan giving these things away? I doubt his record label agreed to that. Did the director go begging to the producers, "The whole effort will be ruined if we don’t pay whatever it costs for that song!!!"? I'm very interested and confused by this dynamic.
This movie would probably put some folks to sleep since it's just a car ride to nowhere in some bad wintry weather. But I found it mesmerizing and a lovely pastoral view of the South in which I was raised. One would have hoped for a happy renewal of Williams' already-fading career, but Luke, who was 29 when he got into that blue Cadillac with Sorbonne was dead as soon as the engine on that car turned over. And so are we all, eh?