Chrystal is a film written and directed by longtime Arkansas resident Ray McKinnon. The movie stars McKinnon’s wife, Fayetteville (Washington County) native Lisa Blount, who played the title character alongside Hot Springs (Garland County) native Billy Bob Thornton, who played her husband. The movie was shot in and around Eureka Springs (Carroll County) in 2003 and is set in a small, unnamed community in the Ozark Mountains. It was the second project of Ginny Mule Productions, a company co-owned by McKinnon, Blount, and Walton Goggins, who also acted in the movie. The three had received an Academy Award for best live action short in 2001 for their first project, the film The Accountant.

Chrystal centers upon the reunion of Joe (played by Thornton) and his wife Chrystal (played by Blount). Joe had spent many years in prison for growing marijuana and for trying to escape from the law. The opening scene flashes back to that unsuccessful escape attempt, with Joe racing his family’s car on narrow mountain roads, trying to evade a police cruiser as Chrystal and their young son sit silently by his side. The death of their young boy in an ensuing crash leads to the main drama of the film, as it overshadows Joe and Chrystal’s attempt to reconcile upon Joe’s return.

Both Joe and Chrystal find other impediments to their reconciliation as well. Joe is again tempted to cultivate marijuana, leading to conflict with a local drug lord called Snake, played by McKinnon. Meanwhile, Chrystal must deal with enduring physical pain in the aftermath of the accident.

The film made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. At the Stockholm International Film Festival later that year, Blount received a Best Actress award for her performance.

The movie was largely well received by critics, who noted the strong performances by many in the cast and who appreciated the film’s use of dark humor. McKinnon said that he drew the film’s characters from different people he had met throughout his life and that he wanted to create southern characters who maintained a self-consciousness and sense of humor about their lives.

The film contains many regional elements, including a soundtrack featuring several folk songs, such as “Old Joe Clark” by Stone County native Jimmy Driftwood. In the film, Blount also sings a rendition of the folk ballad “Rocking Chair.”

In its opening weekend, playing on four screens, Chrystal grossed only a little over $12,000. Over the spring of 2005, it went on to gross just over $80,000. It was distributed by First Look Studios. Despite its poor showing at the box office, the film further established McKinnon’s reputation among fellow filmmakers, particularly those from the South who praised his authentic portrayals of local characters. It also led to his involvement in several other projects, including those of filmmaker Jeff Nichols, a native of Little Rock (Pulaski County). Blount died in 2010.

For additional information:
Chrystal.” Internet Movie Database. (accessed October 12, 2021).

Brannan, Brad. “Arkansas Selling Itself as a Movie Location.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 14, 2003, p. 4B.

Martin, Philip. “Ozark Gothic.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 8, 2005, pp. 1E, 8E.

Moore, Roger. “A Few Minutes with the Suddenly Ubiquitous Ray McKinnon.” Blood Dirt & Angels Blog. (accessed October 12, 2021).

Christopher Hickey
Little Rock, Arkansas


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