Corb Lund stars in this Alberta-shot drama

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Guitar Lessons
RPL, Jan. 18, 27, 28
2.5 out of 5

At a time when movies are constantly winking at the audience, simplicity and sense of purpose feel like a breath of fresh air. In Guitar Lessons, earnestness goes a long way to cover the story’s shortcomings. The movie benefits too from a strong main cast, led by country-western singer/songwriter Corb Lund in his first starring role.

Lund is Ray, a man of few words and fewer friends trying to make a living as an oilfield contractor in northwestern Alberta. Once upon a time he almost hit the big-time as a musician, but chose to walk away for murky reasons.

His standoffish approach to life makes him a terrible choice as a teacher, yet he’s approached by a 15-year-old Métis boy, Leland (newcomer Kaden Noskiye), for the titular guitar lessons. The kid seems lost in more ways than one, and there’s clearly more to his meet-up with Ray than chance.

One wishes writer/director Aaron James (Hank Williams First Nation) would have spent more time developing the relationship between Ray and Leland (most of it unfolds as a montage). Instead, the movie takes unnecessary tangents to explore Ray’s relationship with women and money.

Guitar Lessons’ B-story is potent, but barely connected to the main plot (as if two scripts were mashed together to reach feature length). It revolves around Ray’s best friend Ernie (comedian Conway Kootenay), a good-natured Cree man struggling with a gambling problem. James smartly enables Kootenay to play to his strengths (his monologue about land acknowledgements is a keeper) but also injects the character with enough pathos to make him well rounded.

Overall, Guitar Lessons fails to come together, particularly the more dramatic second half. But it  has enough small victories to be worth your time. ■