Directed by James Schamus
“Indignation” is the kind of smart, well-crafted and brilliantly acted film that usually dots two or three screens in New York and Los Angeles during the last weeks of December in an effort to make it eligible for awards’ season consideration. And, yet, here it is, in a limited national release, competing with “Suicide Squads”, “War Dogs” and other $100mil-plus budget films during the dog days of summer! Truly, a shocking occurence!
What makes it so good? Based on the Philip Roth novel, it is a typically dense, sardonic, and often comic, Rothian fish-out-of-water tale about a Jewish boy beginning life at a Catholic University on the cusp of manhood during the heyday of the Korean War. While I have not read the book, the adaptation is brilliantly conceived as a screenplay and was hypnotic throughout. So, too, is the look and feel of the film…immersive with lush dark and foreboding colors, evoking a nostalgic, yet confidently realistic sense of time and place.
And the performances are sensational. I had not heard of Logan Lerman previous to this, but based on his emotional and spot-on characterization, he’ll be one to watch for many years. He is not afraid to make his Marcus Messner unlikable, and, yet, you root for him throughout. Sarah Gadon, another actress new to me, is equally convincing, stunning and heartbreaking. But the REAL weight of this film lies in its two Chicago-based theater vets, Tracy Letts and Linda Emond. Tracy, who deftly manages to balance the task of being both antagonist (or “the Man”) AND the wise and loving patriarch, is hilarious, strong and somehow, sympathetic. It’s his best performance on film to date and should garner him some award attention. Linda Emond, as Marcus’ mother, is simply other-worldly in her depiction of a Jewish mother. Her scene work is devastating, fragile and strong… sometimes all within the same sentence… and while her TVQ may not be high enough to get consideration, hardware-based accolades are certainly deserving.
And, topping off the good news is the lovely score from Jay Wadley. It is noticeable for its beauty, and in no way interferes with any of the action, emotion, or performances.
If there is a weak spot, it is in the direction and editing of the film. While James Schamus (a longtime film professor at Columbia College here in Chicago) has somehow, in his FIRST feature, made a worthy adaptation of a Roth novel (which some would say has never been accomplished), he seems unsure of how to end scenes…letting the camera linger a few seconds too long…slightly undercutting the power of what came before.
But this is a tiny, tiny complaint. If you love film, like I do, and love to be CHALLENGED by film, like I do, then “Indignation” rightfully belongs at the top of your current theater-outing queue. We should, without question, reward any studio, big or small, that acknowledges the desire for such films with a mid-summer release date.
Written on August 25th, 2016