Indignation (2016)

R   |    |  Drama, Romance

Indignation (2016) Poster

In 1951, Marcus, a working-class Jewish student from New Jersey, attends a small Ohio college, where he struggles with sexual repression and cultural disaffection, amid the ongoing Korean War.


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26 August 2016 | jadepietro
| A Must-See Drama
(RATING: ☆☆☆☆½ out of 5 ) THIS FILM IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. IN BRIEF: An underrated film that deserves to be of the year's best dramas. GRADE: A- SYNOPSIS: In 1951, a young Jewish man goes to college to avoid the Korean War and falls in love with serious consequences. JIM'S REVIEW: Based on Philip Roth's novel, Indignation tells the familiar story of a young repressed Jewish man falling in love (or lust) with a beautiful Gentile woman in the 1950's era. A rehash of Goodbye Columbus without the comic edge and irony, this film follows a similar outline by the same author, but is far more solemn and serious in its treatment. This is typical Roth territory in which our hero will try to overcome the obstacles placed in his path as fate deals its upper hand. Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) is an intellectual loner. Yearning to escape from his domineering Jewish family, he goes off to a conservative Christian college rather than fighting in the Korean War. It is there he meets Olivia (Sarah Gadon), a beautiful blonde vision of loveliness and their first date leads to a budding romance. It is also there that he encounters an omnipotent and powerful head dean, Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts, in a powerful performance, but more on that later), who has great difficulty coming to terms with this all too rational and radical student and avowed atheist. The screenplay adaptation by James Schamus, who also directed the film, is first rate. It allows the characters to intellectualize their philosophies with such eloquence. The film starts off a bit too leisurely but establishes characters and place so effortlessly. The film structure begins as a flashback with narrative voice-over that doesn't really make much sense until its full circle ending, with one of the most powerful closing shots that emotionally left me gasp. Mr. Schamus' literate script aligns with his skillful direction, as this talented filmmaker captures the mindset of this nostalgic but troubled era in an understated fashion. (Speaking of fashions, the costume design by the gifted Ann Roth is a visual treat as well.) About the midway point, there is a remarkable dramatic scene that highlights the glorious direction, screenplay, and acting unlike any other film thus far this year. It is a rather lengthy confrontation between our idealist liberal young hero sparring with a smug conservative dean. The teacher becomes intellectually inferior to his student as their conversation continues. The tension builds ominously and slowly in this cat-and mouse gamesmanship, maneuvering from one point of view to the next. It is startling its its subtlety and impact. Simply put, it is the highlight of this film and one of the most engrossing scenes one will see this year in any film. The acting is superb. Mr. Lerman as Marcus is perfectly cast and carries off the innocence of youth angle in this coming-of-age tale. This actor commands the screen and makes his character quite believable and caring. His love interest played by Ms. Gadon definitely looks the part, but her acting skills never reach the depth of her written character. She needed to be that 50's female icon, a Grace Kelly type, but comes off as a second-tier Kim Novak or a third -rate Cybil Shepard. She's good, but not good enough when compared to the stellar acting by others in this movie. The film is populated with top-notch Broadway veterans in supporting roles who certainly know their way around a script. Danny Burstein plays Marcus' over-protective father and he is so strong in his nuanced acting that one wishes he had more screen time. Adding fine support in smaller roles are Ben Rosenfield and Pico Anderson. But there are two truly great performances that deserve award recognition: Linda Emond as Esther, Marcus' loving mother, who has a wonderful speech as she tries to steer her son into making the right decision. It is delivered with such skill and passion. Tracy Leets as the egotistical and bigoted Dean Caudwell, is a marvel, creating one of the most terrifying teacher role models since J.K. Simmon's sadistic teacher in Whiplash. The hatred and intolerance of others is so condensed in Mr. Leets' body language and facial expressions that the end results counteract his words in the most unsettling manner. (Oscar voters, are you listening?) The film's theme about life' s choices, about the road we take or did not take, about the small detours that can have consequences which will eternally haunt our existence, is foremost in this thought-provoking story. Mr. Schamus has made an compelling case with his wonderful debut, Indignation. Let us hope this independent film makes a compelling reason with the movie-going audience for compulsory viewing and is not lost amid the blockbusters and cinematic hyperbole that is usually the par for the summer course. Run to see this film while you can! It demands your attention!

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