'Don Verdean' is the newest film from Jared Hess. Director of 'Napoleon Dynamite', 'Nacho Libre', and the upcoming 'Masterminds'. Needless to say, Hess is a wonder child of offbeat comedies that really don't have anything to do with anything. So, when I sat down to watch this film, the story came as a pleasant surprise. 'Don Verdean' seems to be Hess's first foray into legitimate, cinematic storytelling. Unlike his older films that are made to feel like a home video (in a sense) Verdean actually employs some surprisingly good cinematography to help tell its story. It's no Roger Deakins but this film actually looks like some effort was put into shot composition.
We follow Don Verdean (Rockwell) as he sides with a local church to try and hunt down religious artifacts. Artifacts that they believe, if found, will drive people to their church. As Verdean finds artifact after artifact the church he is employed by grows restless for a BIG discovery. Goliath's skull big. Feeling the pressure, Rockwell takes matters into his own hands. A robbed grave later, Don Verdean makes the "discovery" of a life time and his life spirals down from there.
The film still has that unmistakable quirkiness that Hess has built himself on but 'Verdean' proves that he is making strides into making noteworthy films. Aside from the films relatively impressive look the film is definitely a Hess movie. Its got the same unique comedy and ill timed character moments that make his other films classics.
But 'Verdean' has something his other films didn't. An ensemble cast. With Rockwell as the title character, Clement as his companion, and Forte as the films villain this should've been a knock out. But, unfortunately it isn't. It still has the offbeat comedy that many have come to love from Hess but it sacrifices a lot of it in the name of a story line.
There are multiple moments in the film where we get a deadly serious scene that are devoid of humor. Obviously you have to know when to let off the comedy gas pedal but for the first half hour of the film we barely get a laugh or two. It takes to long to actually get into the meat of the story. A story that, in fact, is pretty hilarious and ripe with religious commentary. But it makes the mistake that many first timers do, it takes to dang long to get off and going.
And, like many movies that are set up like this, 'Verdean' ends in a very contrived way. The film is moving a great pace and suddenly it's over. The conclusion comes out of no where and threw me straight out of the film. Like its rocky beginning, 'Verdean' can't seem to figure out how to end in a natural way. It makes the mistake of pushing its characters one way instead letting their personalities take them in a realistic way.
Yet, its story is surprisingly compelling. Living in a state where a church is literally on every corner, I may connect with this film more than others. That being said, I think 'Don Verdean' raises very valid points about what we as human beings believe in and how we jump between what's the most popular at that time. It displays how we seem to be so invested in theatrics that we forget to even think about what is being said. Without spoilers, there is a scene involving a press conference that is particularly effective.
It's nothing that hasn't already been said. But 'Don Verdean' approaches it in such a unique, monotone way that it just works. It makes use (more or less) of its great cast and delivers some hilarious commentary on religion. Its unfortunate that the film sacrifices its best quality in order to artificially build this film. It may not be the Hess film that many expect but it's an impressive stride forward in storytelling for him.