Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Indignation (2016)

Film: Indignation (2016)
Stars: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Danny Burstein, Linda Emond, Tracy Letts
Director: James Schamus
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

I think I have officially gotten to the point where I will watch Logan Lerman in pretty much anything.  I've never seen the Percy Jackson movies, admittedly, but Lerman consistently has pointed out that he is a fine dramatic actor, and as proof, Indignation made it onto my watch list without anything going for it other than Lerman himself as a draw (which is a pretty select club for films I'll buy tickets to regardless of reviews or plot, simply for an actor).  It shows, though, in a film like Indignation, one of those brave films that actually sets out to do the unthinkable: make a Philip Roth novel into a movie.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows a young man named Marcus (Lerman), a working-class Jewish boy during the heart of the Korean War who is planning on attending a Christian college in a small town in Ohio.  He is persistently rattled by his father (Burstein), who is deeply overprotective of his son, partially because he is worried about the war and how many of his son's friends will end up perishing, and also about his son's future, both in terms of religion (Marcus proclaims himself an atheist) and potentially because of mental illness.  The film unfolds with Marcus meeting a young woman named Olivia (Gadon), who has issues with depression and even once attempted suicide, but who seems to genuinely like him even though she is more sexually-forward than he is accustomed toward and as a result makes assumptions about her that she finds off-putting.  As a result, their romance is very on-again/off-again.

The film is fascinating because Philip Roth is such a good storyteller, and there's really a lot of story and complicated issues at play here.  The movie's title, you'd assume initially, would come from the economic issues at play at the beginning, with a now socially-climbing Marcus finding himself at odds with his butcher father, but instead it's about how pride and our own sense of self-worth occasionally leads us to make foolish, rash, and irreversible decisions.  Every major character in the film at some point has a "pride goeth before the fall" situation, and in nearly every case they choose pride to their doom.  Marcus, indignant over the perceived and very real slights he has with a school dean, ends up making a foolish mistake of having a student violate the church attendance policy, and as a result ends up dying in the Korean War after he is expelled from the university.  His mother leads in part to this decision by breaking up Olivia with her son because she wants her definition of what is better for Marcus, not realizing that her son, like so many characters in the film, is dealing with his own sense of depression and inadequacy.  Time and again the characters in the film, save perhaps Tracy Letts' Dean Caudwell, hand over their fate to pride, and in Dean Caudwell's situation holding off on instant gratification pays off as he destroys Marcus in a way that is permanent, and entirely within his rights as dean, and not just flying off the handle in a rash way.

It's a nastier movie than the surface would have allowed, and says a lot about what we as human beings will do to try and better ourselves.  The film itself occasionally runs out of steam-the lead actors are excellent, but Danny Burstein doesn't translate well at all (weirdly the only one of a very Broadway-blessed cast to not be able to tone down the theatrics), but the movie occasionally meanders and loses focus in a way that would be rewarded in a novel (building to a climax) but in a film occasionally feels like lackluster editing.  Plus, the film's ending, with Olivia decades later, her mind lost, still having remembrances of Marcus, felt a little cliched and hackneyed; I would have preferred us never returning to her, her life a mystery, and ending with Marcus in Korea.  That being said, this was a strong movie, and not just because of Lerman's calming presence.  I'll continue to buy tickets to his pictures sight-unseen if he continues to pick scripts this inventive.

Those are my thoughts on this film-how about yours?  What's your favorite piece of work from Logan Lerman, and where do you want to see him go next?  Do you have a Philip Roth novel you're hoping eventually makes the jump to the screen?  And what Broadway stars do you wish would get a meaty transition to the big screen?  Share below!

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