“Eric LaRue” Is Michael Shannon’s Directorial Debut

Michael Shannon steps behind the camera for his directorial debut to helm the film version of the play “Eric LaRue” written by good friend and award-winning writer Brett Neveu. The 2002 play, “Eric LaRue,” deals with the aftermath of a school shooting. It does not focus on the crime itself, but on the effect the murders have on the shooter’s parents and the community.

Four films come to mind that “Eric LaRue” resembles: “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2011); “Mass” (2021)  “Vox Lux” (2018); and 2010’s “Beautiful Boy.”  In each case, the school shooting plunges the families of those involved into chaos. In this film, the entire community is upset.


Judy Greer

Judy Greer of “Eric LaRue” at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.

Shannon, in the Q&A following the film’s screening at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival, said, “This movie really seemed to be about this country. Only one word sums it up: confusion. The country doesn’t make any f***** sense, so I wanted to make a movie about that, and I did.”

Indeed, at one point, in a climactic scene opposite his mother Janice (Judy Greer) the title character, now in prison, says, “At the time, I thought I had no choice. Now it makes no sense.” Nation Sage Henrikson plays the teenage Eric in the film’s climactic scene. He adds, “Things got out of control in my mind and I screwed up.” The surprising thing is that Eric expresses and feels real remorse, while his mother seems bent on defending the indefensible.

That made no sense. Referencing Director Shannon’s remarks at the beginning of this paragraph, that currently seems true of the nation and the world.


The acting  is as good as it gets. For a small film, it has a superb cast. Judy Greer (“The Village,” “Adaptation”), who plays Janice LaRue, Eric’s mother, is Oscar-worthy in the part.  Alexander Skarsgard (“Big Little Lies,” “Succession”) plays her husband, Ron LaRue. Tracy Letts—who has been in 5 pictures that were Best Picture nominated—plays Pastor Billy Verne at Redeemer Church.

Judy Greer carries this film on her slim shoulders. Janice is doing her best to cope with the horror of her son’s actions. While Ron, her husband, turns to religion in a big way, Janice LaRue actively rejects giving her troubles to Jesus. She is trying to cope, but she has to do it her way, not her husband’s dictatorial religious path. (Ron to Janice: “I don’t think you know what you think.”) For Janice, “His blood will heal you” talk is not cutting it.

Plus, it appears that Ron’s attendance at Bible readings with Allison Pill may be thinly concealed unconsummated lust. She is his manager at work and seems to be quite fond of hugging Ron at every opportunity in an overly flirtatious inappropriate manner. (“I’m the H.R. manager, so I make the rules.”) Ms. Pill does a great job with the part.


Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon introduced his first directorial effort, “Eric LaRue” at the Music Box Theater in Chicago at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The discordant sounds of hymns that are slightly off-key and Jonathan Madro’s original music add a lot to the mood, which is, as you would expect, grim and depressing.


Andrew Wheeler was the cinematographer. The Wilmington, North Carolina area is the film’s setting. The cast took up residence at the Residence Inn. They socialized nightly. Kate Arrington (who plays the mother of one of the murdered boys) is Michael Shannon’s wife. (Kate plays the mother who is working on forgiveness.)

There were a number of interesting shots in the film.

One was the close-up of a stained-glass window showing a Biblical figure about to cut his wrists with a wicked-looking dagger. Another was the truly inspired shot of the Bible-thumping Ron in a booth opposite a crowned-with-thorns Jesus. Jesus is sipping a soft drink through a straw (while bleeding from his wounds). Genius!

And, of course, there is the final scene, which is Janice walking away down a long gravel road and shedding her jacket as she goes. Does this symbolize Janet “walking away from” the entire situation? Or was it simply a failure of the gymnast to stick the ending? Out of appreciation for the talents involved, I’ll suggest the former for what seemed anti-climactic. It seemed that the long-delayed prison meeting of the mother and convicted son should have been the film’s finale.


Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon onstage at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival on October 13, 2023. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

There is a lot of religious fervor shown onscreen and a lot of quoting of religious phrases. A good editor could cut out about twenty to thirty minutes. The film runs just one minute shy of 2 hours.

There is also a great deal of plot devoted to which pastor (1st Presbyterian or Redeemer) will do the honors on assembling the mothers of the 3 slain boys in a meeting with Janice LaRue, the mother of the murderer. The entire mid-part of the film hinges on which pastor (Tracy Letts or Paul Sparks) will win out.

When you have a character like Minister Steve Calhan moderating the explosive meeting of three traumatized women, you are asking for trouble.  Example of Pastor Steve’s words of wisdom: “We all understand your involvement—that you weren’t involved.” (Eye roll).  Steve Calhan just seems out of his depth.


Eric LaRue Q&A

Q&A following “Eric LaRue” screening at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival on October 13th: (L to R): Cinema Chicago Artistic Director Mimi Plauche, Writer Brett Neveu, Director Michael Shannon. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

I enjoyed Michael Shannon’s Q&A remarks about Janice being like a film director.

Said Shannon, “People give you notes, and you either say (a) I’m not doing that (b) Why did they suggest that? Or (c) What’s a better thing I could do? I think Janice is like a film director in responding to her situation the same way.”

Shannon did not sound inspired to direct more movies: “I can’t afford to make more movies. I can make more money kicking an ATM. It is impossible to get one made, impossible to fund them, and impossible to sell them.” He said, “We’re going to take something that is pretty much impossible and make it completely impossible.”

But, as Writer Brett Neveu countered, “We were all working together to find the truth.”

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