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dir-scr Alex Smith, Andrew J Smith
prd Brunson Green, Laura Ivey
with Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins, Bill Pullman, Alex Neustaedter, Lily Gladstone, Ken White
release UK Jun.17 sffl, US 6.Oct.17
He ain't heavy: Bomer and Wiggins
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
A sensitive film about the awkward bonding between a father and son, this beautifully photographed drama takes a very dark turn as its story unfolds. Indeed, things get genuinely gruelling, but filmmakers Alex and Andrew Smith somehow manage to avoid both melodrama and sentimentality. The themes get a bit lost in the dictates of the plot, which makes the pace feel draggy, but there's still a thoughtful, moving edge to it all.
Arriving in rural Montana, 14-year-old David (Wiggins) hasn't done much hunting since his last visit to see his dad Cal (Bomer). This time, it takes awhile for them to even find words to speak to each other. But Cal is determined that David is going to shoot his first moose this weekend, just as the young Cal (Neustaedter in flashbacks) did with his dad (Pullman) at the same age. David, on the other hand, isn't so sure about this. And as snow falls in the mountains, Cal and David find themselves in a desperate situation.
The opening sequences are so finely played that they sustain the audience for later scenes that become somewhat repetitive and dry. Bomer and Wiggins are terrific in their roles, internalising their emotions while playing with bigger themes such as why a man needs to shoot something and the difference between hunting and killing a wild animal. So while the dialog is minimalistic, the emotions are conveyed in the actors' eyes. Although it's perhaps frustrating that this internalised intrigue isn't allowed to properly play out. Instead, the events force these men to change the way they interact.
All of this is stunningly shot in the wilds of Montana, with towering snowcaps and dense forests. The increasingly white landscapes are often breathtaking, both because of the raw beauty and the severe danger they represent. And the narrative includes a clever twist on the nature of man's relationship with wildlife. Again, in the final act the depth of these themes becomes secondary to the plot, even if it's compelling enough to hold the interest.
There's also plenty in the personal story between this father and son to make the film gripping and rather wrenching. As Cal tells the story of his first moose, the parallels between them are intriguing and nicely subverted. And the final scenes carry a forceful emotional kick. But there are some sidestepped elements that might have added more intense resonance for both of these men. And also for the larger issues the film touches on but never quite grapples with.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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