Arizona’s Travis Mills put together his first feature production for his Running Wild Films in 2011 with The Big Something, a picture made over the course of 14 days with a budget of $2,000. After progressing through works like The Detective’s Lover and the sublime 2013 film The Men Who Robbed the Bank, Mills returns with 2016’s Durant’s Never Closes.
The name of the game here is volatility. Based on the book by Mabel Leo and the play by Terry Earp, Durant’s Never Closes tells the story of Phoenix restaurateur Jack Durant and weaves a dreamlike legend in the process. A restaurant bore his name on Central Avenue and saw such clientele as John Wayne, Clark Cable. And, despite being married five times, Durant left almost everything to his dog Humble.
Tom Sizemore does the job as Durant, a lion of a man noisily occupying a barstool in his restaurant. He’s an explosive presence, one who attacks and threatens some women while lavishing kindness on others. Of particular note is a failed marriage to Suzie (Michelle Stafford), a woman who is now with (another) abusive man.
Durant spends time interacting with various patrons, including Dizzy Dean (Jon Gries) and a string of inelegant college kids. Many people discuss his legend and he hears everything, having designed the joint that way. There are flashes of violence outside in the perky Arizona sun, too, and there are few moments of internal peace.
The character of Durant is a fascinating figure and the local folklore is truly unusual, but Mills keeps the focus on what amounts to a transcendent campaign. The instability lies inside, loitering tremulously beneath the bones and meat of the man who was at one point listed by the FBI as one of the 10 most dangerous men in Arizona.
But Durant’s Never Closes doesn’t sensationalize the man with bare storytelling. It chooses an internal approach and a foggy one, with the plot never quite following one direct path. This nebulous tactic can seem disorienting at times, but one gets the sense that being anywhere near Durant would be just as disorienting.
Sizemore is unhinged as the character and that’s probably a wise move. He’s a firecracker, spluttering his lines and never quite sounding “right.” His curses come out in sprawled bundles and sometimes he corrects himself mid-blasphemy to change the article from God to Jesus. These little tidbits of recklessness cement a surprisingly profound character study.
There are many interesting aspects about Durant’s itself that create a kind of mystique about the place, like how regular customers enter through the back door or how the red leather booths are always accented by the signature red wallpaper. There’s also a 48 oz. porterhouse steak on the menu for those interesting in trying their luck.
Mills’ movie captures the legend of the place and the mythos of Durant without doing any of the advertising. As Sizemore’s character asserts before the end of the picture, he wasn’t a bad man but he wasn’t a good man either. The revolving door of friends and lovers and enemies around him seems to confirm this.
There are others who come and go, like The Last Picture Show director Peter Bogdanovich as an understated man named George or some of Mills’ usual suspects like Rob Edwards and Stacie Stocker. These people are but ships in the night, vessels that drift past the hot-blooded eyes of Durant while he tries to hold the edges together.
As a film, Durant’s Never Closes is anything but a conventional biopic. That’s a good thing. It’s an often tricky patchwork of a man’s life and it stands as a bold piece of Arizona history, one that may frustrate as well as it entertains and one that never, ever closes.