British writer-director Bernard Rose continues his lowering updates of Tolstoy stories with this resonant adaptation of Master and Man. Danny Huston takes the lead (as he did in Rose's Ivans xtc and The Kreutzer Sonata) as Basil, a Los Angeles property speculator in the post-Christmas doldrums.
Having attempted to diddle an old lady out of her church fund, he hightails it to chilly Colorado for a tour of foreclosed properties he hopes to buy on the cheap. His driver Nick (Matthew Jacobs), a dumpy fellow with divorce blues, is at the airport to collect him, and almost from the off a droll and prickly antagonism springs up between them.
Basil, who asks to be addressed as "sir", explains his business credo with pompous satisfaction, while Nick, who knows a capitalist predator when he sees one, grumbles at being treated as "a slave".
As the day darkens and the weather closes in, their journey reaches an impasse – damn that Satnav! – at which point the master-servant dynamic becomes an irrelevance. Rose's jumpy editing and camerawork lend an enjoyable tension to this two-hander, whose close-quarter fencing would also work on the stage.
Its endgame gets seized up in the fateful cold, but the duelling performances – Huston's saturnine patrician, Jacobs's plaintive everyman – never falter.