The Peanut Butter Falcon

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Peanut Butter Falcon
dir-scr Tyler Nilson, Mike Schwartz
prd Albert Berger, Christopher Lemole, Lije Sarki, David Thies, Ron Yerxa, Tim Zajaros
with Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, Yelawolf, Jon Bernthal, Jake Roberts, Mick Foley, Michael Berthold, Deja Dee
release US 9.Aug.19,
UK 18.Oct.19
19/US Roadside 1h33

johnson hawkes church

london film fest

gottsagen and labeouf
A warmly offbeat road movie, this drama takes a fable-like approach that becomes increasingly engaging as the story progresses. It's beautifully shot in American coastal wetlands, with an evocative song score and superbly unfussy performances from the cast. First-time feature filmmakers Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz refreshingly ground everything in a matter-of-fact tone that draws out the themes without ever pushing them.
In North Carolina, Tyler (LaBeouf) is a wounded soul in trouble for stealing crab-pots from rival fisherman Duncan (Hawkes), who now wants revenge. On the run, he crosses paths with Zak (Cottsagen), a young guy with Downs Syndrome who has escaped from a nursing home to pursue his dream to become a wrestler. As Tyler and Zak travel down the coast, they're pursued by Duncan and his sidekick Ratboy (Yelawolf), as well as Eleanor (Johnson), Zak's carer. Their goal is to find Salt Water Redneck (Church), the hero from Zak's decades-old videotape collection.
There are several remarkable things about this film, the first being its sense of place, making the most of the watery settings to evoke classic stories from Huckleberry Finn to Of Mice and Men. And even more important is the way the script explores attitudes toward people who are different. Tyler never treats Zak as anything other than a sparky young man with big ideas and ambitions. Others call him horrible names, while Eleanor doesn't realise that her over-protectiveness is another form of bigotry.

Because the issues are embedded organically into the story, the actors can relax into their roles. LaBeouf and Johnson have a refreshingly easy charm as imperfect people just trying get through life. They're both perhaps a little too open to change, but even that is a nice shift from the stubbornness of most movie characters. Meanwhile, Cottsagen is terrific as the brightly curious Zak, a likeable guy whose exuberant worldview is contagious. And scene-stealing side roles for Hawkes, Church and Dern (as Zak's roommate) add engaging textures.

With the film's gently loping pace and rather obvious villainous subplot, there's a sense that it was made up as the cast and crew went along. This adds an improvisational charm to the story, even as it twists through some rather predictable beats. What wins the audience over are the rhythms of the actors and the lovely direction and cinematography (by Nigel Bluck). And through every scene, the quietly powerful themes add some startlingly personal kicks.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 6.Aug.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall