THE RIGHTEOUS is a film written and directed by Mark O’Brien (Ready or Not, City On A Hill) starring Henry Czerny (Mission Impossible, Ready Or Not), Mimi Kuzyk (The Day After Tomorrow), Mark O’Brien as Aaron Smith, Mayko Nguyen as Mary Hutton, and Kate Corbett as Doris.
Frederic and Ethel Mason have lost their beloved adopted child and are left with an emptiness in their lives. A stranger barges into their life for some unknown purpose and the past starts catching up with Frederic.
THE RIGHTEOUS is beautifully filmed in black and white. I really liked the look of the film and the decision to use black and white photography to dramatize the story. The whole of the film is professionally and competently made. I have no quarrel with any of the below-the-line work. However, I do have issues with the work of the actors. This type of story requires a deep commitment to showing the inner emotional lives of the characters and, for me, the vital linkage to the actors’ emotions was not as strong as the film needs. You have to be able to empathize with their pain and I could not. The actors show all the things that you would expect from the characters in this kind of story, which is about grief and guilt, but I never felt the emotional pain of the characters. I’m sorry to have to say it, but THE RIGHTEOUS is a surface-level exploration of the topics in the script.
I didn’t believe that any of them had an emotional connection to the child or her death. The film begins with a bravura moment of Frederic Mason and a monologue with some very well done camera work, and it didn’t move me. I wanted to feel, but I didn’t. With emotional work, I am a very easy mark. I’m on the actor’s side, and I am very open to the experience. Sadly, it didn’t work for me.
The other issue I have is with the story. I think that I get what the writer was trying to accomplish, but sometimes, in trying to be mysterious, a script won’t give enough to the audience in an attempt to try and remain enigmatic. I feel that THE RIGHTEOUS and its script falls into that trap. It’s a film that has a very strong link to religion and more of an Old Testament reading of Christianity. But, at the same time, the idea is put forward that maybe this punishment isn’t coming from God, but then in the final moments, it seems like more of a heavenly intervention. I think that there are some ideas about men who are weak and selfish and how women suffer because of that weakness, but I’m not sure that that is the actual point of the film.
For me, there was more of a concentration on the visuals, which are admittedly quite good, and the presentation of the story than to the emotional core and the script and how that relates to what is actually happening. With a film that is more like a tone poem, you have to commit to that course. To me, while writing this review and thinking more about it, it seems like one of the biggest problems is that THE RIGHTEOUS didn’t commit to one course over the other. The filmmaker wants to have it both ways and because of that, and the issues with the lack of emotional believability, it succeeded in neither of them.
THE RIGHTEOUS had its World Premiere at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
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