Review by Rich Cline | 3.6/5

dir-scr Fran Kranz
prd Fran Kranz, Dylan Matlock, Casey Wilder Mott, JP Ouellette
with Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Breeda Wool, Michelle N Carter, Kagen Albright, Michael White, Campbell Spoor
release US 8.Oct.21,
UK 20.Jan.22
21/US 1h51

dowd isaacs plimpton
london film fest

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Unfolding like a play in real time with a limited cast and single setting, this contained drama is lifted by its remarkably realistic tone. Mixing earthy intensity with offhanded humanity, writer-director Fran Kranz fills scenes with quiet details that continually reveal the story and the characters. It may sometimes feel indulgent and deliberately pointed, but the actors offer beautifully textured performances as authentic people grappling with huge emotions.
Several years after a mass tragedy, Jay and Gail (Isaacs and Plimpton) arrive at a church classroom, anxious about their meeting with Richard and Linda (Birney and Dowd). They barely know each other, and are determined to cut through the awkwardness between them, beginning with small talk, apologies and catching up on how their children are doing, all while putting their political differences aside. Then as they open up, their discussion turns increasingly intense, because one couple's son killed the others'. The lingering question is how they can ever hope to find healing.
A remarkable hush hangs over the film, as each person is understandably reluctant to openly speak about the awful events that have brought them together. This includes the woman (Carter) who facilitates their meeting, as well as the chirpy church lady (Wool) and her teen assistant (Abright). There's a vivid sense that everyone is nervous about saying the wrong thing, and it takes quite a while for the picture to emerge of what happened. Then as the script reveals the horrific backstory, the dialog becomes enormously compelling.

These are staggeringly complex characters. Jay and Gail are trying to be curious and neither defensive nor vindictive, but they refuse to apologise for their feelings. Isaacs plays Jay as a man carefully holding himself together, while Plimpton's Gail is only barely controlling a storm of inner pain. Dowd gives Linda an open emotionality that isn't as helpful as she hopes it will be, while Birney's Richard is trying perhaps too desperately to avoid assigning blame. So will asking how or why help anyone move forward?

Essentially this is just four people around a table, but the riveting conversation swerves through a range of highs and lows. Even if spiralling waves of dialog sometimes get rather theatrical and manipulative, what is said never feels scripted, barrelling into moments that are unexpected and authentic. Camerawork keeps close to the actors faces, occasionally moving to juxtapose them in the frame in ways that echo both commonality and antagonism. And while some of this is obvious, there are constant insights that catch us off-guard.

cert 12 themes, language 29.Dec.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall