The Perfect Lead Choice;
Turns Down The Conventional;
And Offers Deep Thought.
Don’t look now, but Jeffrey Wright is quietly becoming the master of saying a million words without ever moving his lips, and drawing you in based on his sheer presence while doing so. In this latest HBO film, he is given a great showcase to really sink his teeth into and in the process shines brighter than ever.
What really stands out here is the feeling of authenticity. The film was shot entirely in a real, functioning prison with real inmates as extras, and that gritty realism goes a long way. And the natuee of the story makes it even better, as it isn’t your typical prison story. There is no plot to escape, cliches are kept to a minimum and instead of being overloaded with plot, we are locked into a character study, peering within the mind of a man on his way out after thirty years inside. While Louis (Wright) doesn’t shy away from speaking, he is more apt to let his face do the talking. His expressions tell a great story, letting us understand his motivations, hopes and fears. He is locked in a dilemma, torn between wanting to mind his own business until his release date and intervening in gang warfare that threatens the life (and soul) of a young inmate he has taken under his wing. Wright does a fantastic job of showing this struggle, turning in the strongest performance of 2019 thus far.
Coming from a documentary background, director Madeleine Sackler makes a very strong, impressive feature debut, delivering a film with a strong sense of originality in a worn genre. While the pace occasionally dips, I was drawn in the entire time, especially due to the performances of Wright, William Fichtner and Theothus Carter. Together with cinematographer Wolfgang Held, she presents some striking imagery, particularly when Louis imagines his long-desired freedom. Sackler anchors everything admirably, and I am very much looking forward to her upcoming, very unique looking documentary (also produced by HBO) shot within the same Indiana prison.
Thematically, there is a lot to dig into. It isn’t the first time we have seen a prisoner try to reconcile what he’s done within his own mind, but between a proposed meeting with a member of the family he destroyed and the quandary of using his influence to quell violence or keeping his eyes to the floor, it feels fresh. Everything is executed at a high level and the result is a meditation worthy of immersing yourself in, provoking some deep thought along the way.