G is for Gangsta Granny


Old people are harmless, right? You can ignore them, you can exploit them, you can displace them and wait for them to die. Old people are insignificant and easy victims.

There’s a familiarity to the setting of the gripping new thriller The G: a midwinter working class town: bare trees, patches of snow dirtied by tires, dry leaves. It’s as craggy as the film’s protagonist, a 72-year-old woman with a perpetual scowl. Ann Hunter smokes, swears, and cares for her invalid husband Chip.

One day, big men come to take them away. These guys have worked the system to become legal guardians: their scam is to put old folks in a facility, sell their home, and seize their assets. It’s a sort of human trafficking, and it’s perfectly legal. Because what are old people going to do about it?

But these guys haven’t dealt with the likes of Ann Hunter.

She’s The G of the title (which stands for “Granny”), and both she and husband Chip have pasts, step kids and second marriages, a complicated web of relationships. Ann Hunter is more capable of revenge then she lets on. Add to that the unspoken rules of criminal allegiances and you have the makings of an unusual and suspenseful thriller.

Ann is played by Dale Dickey, a character actor who’s been in just about everything. You’ll know her from Hell or High Water, Leave No Trace, and Winter’s Bone, usually playing the grizzled matriarch of a cretinous family.

Ann and Chip are placed in a nondescript care facility, where they are belittled and abused. “What is this place?” Ann asks Joseph, a fellow inmate and gardener. “A place for old people,” Joseph replies. But it feels more like a prison, to Ann and to her plucky granddaughter Emma (played by Romane Denis). Emma has a testy relationship with her father’s mother, her G: “I should abandon you like everybody else. But instead, I’m going to get you out of here. Just to piss you off.”

Movies exist in conversation with movies that came before. The G takes our expectations of the noir and thriller genres and subverts them, keeping us off balance, as Tarantino famously did with Pulp Fiction.

The G also subverts the trope that simple folk are underestimated. Think Bob Odenkirk in Nobody, Jackie Chan in The Foreigner, even Walter White in Breaking Bad. They appear ordinary and impotent, unlikely enforcers. Yet push them far enough. The G’s strength is structural, what it tells us, when, and what it doesn’t. We’re given just enough to keep us wanting more. We join the story in medias res, and writer/director Karl R. Hearne (whose previous feature was Touched, 2017) drops his other shoes slowly. He builds on simple moments. Symbols abound and are used deftly: porch lights out, a spindly bulb plant in an otherwise barren kitchen, a hard-boiled egg ominously peeled. Feet are washed.

Dale Dickey plays Ann without vanity, crusty and chain-smoking, and proudly displaying the evidence of her years. “My mother used to say you let your anger out, you live longer,” she says as Ann. “She lived to be 102.” It’s a stark performance. We can assume Ms. Dickey doesn’t often get a role quite this meaty, with generous screen time, and great emotional range. She makes the most of it.

As Emma, Romane Denis is excellent. She’s feisty, by turns tender and belligerent, young but not naïve. Emma’s as comfortable attending a knitting circle as wielding a gun. Ms. Denis appeared in Canadian TV series Nomades and Le Monde De Gabrielle Roy, and the films Slut in a Good Way and My Salinger Year.

Besides Ms. Dickey and Ms. Denis, acting standouts include Greg Ellwand as Chip, and Bruce Ramsey, ominous as kingpin Rivera. Roc Lafortune brings an aching sweetness to his role as the hapless Joseph.

The G achieves a certain poetry before the mechanics of the thriller kick in. Its denouement is rushed and illogical—antagonists who have hovered throughout are dispatched without a second thought—and ultimately sets itself up for a sequel (or a geriatric franchise?). Too bad. Up till then, for about three quarters of its runtime, The G is distinguished by its originality and clever scenario.   


The G. Directed by Karl R. Hearne. 2023. From Level Film. In theaters. 105 minutes.

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