Complex and heart-wrenching9/10
I've just seen this film tonight at the Sundance Film Festival. It was the first film on my Sundance list because I had a chance to meet Chris Gorham at another screening a few months ago, and he's been talking about it.
I was concerned, however, as I started seeing very mixed reviews. As I walked in I was prepared to be bored, preached at, and left with a very predictable life-affirming message. Boy, was I ever wrong.
Let's start with the talent. Gavin, Charlie Hunnam looking like a cross between a young Ryan O'Neal and the late Heath Ledger (complete with fake American accent), eats up most of the screen time, and he's neither hero (a man who falls in love) nor villain (a man who destroys a marriage). That's a sign of a complex character, because real life is seldom black or white. You like him enough, though, not to want him to die. Terrence Howard is predictably good though his character is a little flat compared to the others, Liv Tyler -- who I've never been a fan of before -- turned in a fantastic multi-dimensional performance. Christopher Gorham, as Gavin's roommate, makes a fine showing as well, despite there being very little of it. (Any more of Chris's story would have seemed a forced, unnecessary subplot.) The standout performance, I thought, came from Patrick Wilson as Tyler's Christian fundamentalist husband. For the first half hour I was distracted by the fact that he's a Will Arnett doppelganger, but by the end of the movie he's become frighteningly snakelike.
You expect the Christian extremist to be the bad guy, the evil one. But that's not what happens. Of course he's the bad guy, and yes, he's got views that many people won't agree with, but, through the good writing and his performance, I admired his passion, and even though I didn't agree with his rigid views, I felt his incredible pain as he discovers his wife's infidelity. Some of the folks I was with considered his character over the top, and it is definitely extreme complete with profuse sweating, but you don't really know what direction he's going to turn next, and that's an interesting villain. By the end of the movie my sympathy for him was gone, but I like the fact that he had enough layers that I could feel his pain and hate him at the same time.
The movie certainly made me think, there's a lot of religious and philosophical discussion, but more impact was made by all the pure emotion going on. In case you might think it too cerebral, there was plenty of tension along the way. Like every other scene in the movie, as Gavin stands on the ledge you have no idea which way it might go. In the end, Gavin makes a choice, one life over another, that he faced years before, and this time he makes the "right" choice, at least in his heart. It is not a story about an atheist versus a Christian, anymore than it is really a story about a guy standing on a ledge. And let's not leave out some of the lovely scenes between Tyler & Hunnam as their relationship grows. The film, told mostly in flashback, is quite the emotional roller coaster until it rolls clean off the tracks.
I'm looking forward to seeing it play on IFC so I can appreciate the nuances a little more without being too concerned about the outcome. Matthew Chapman definitely has a lot to say (as he did at the post-film Q&A), and I'm eager to see his next move.